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Briggs v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

May 22, 2015

EDDIE J. BRIGGS and, REBECCA BRIGGS Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY CO. and J. L. WHITE, JR., Defendants.

ORDER

DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This insurance-coverage dispute is before the Court on three motions in limine filed by Defendant State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. [95, 97, 98].[1] Having discussed the issues with the parties during the pretrial conference, and having fully considered their supporting memoranda, the Court rules as follows:

I. Background

In very general terms, Plaintiffs Eddie J. and Rebecca Briggs owned a home in Kemper County, Mississippi, that was struck by a tornado. Defendant State Farm insured the property, but the parties could not agree as to the adjustment of the claim. The Briggses sued, asserting claims against State Farm for breach of contract and bad faith. The matter is set for trial June 1, 2015.

II. Standard

As summarized by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals:

A motion in limine is a motion made prior to trial for the purpose of prohibiting opposing counsel from mentioning the existence of, alluding to, or offering evidence on matters so highly prejudicial to the moving party that a timely motion to strike or an instruction by the court to the jury to disregard the offending matter cannot overcome its prejudicial influence on the jurors' minds.

O'Rear v. Fruehauf Corp., 554 F.2d 1304, 1306 n.1 (5th Cir.1977) (citation and quotation omitted).

III. Motions

A. Motion to Bifurcate [95]

State Farm seeks an order bifurcating the trial. Phase one would address the breach-ofcontract dispute, whereas phase two would address extra-contractual and punitive damages. Plaintiffs agree that punitive damages must be bifurcated. See Miss. Code Ann. ยง 11-1-65(1). But they maintain that evidence related to extra-contractual damages should be heard in phase one.

The parties' briefs on this motion mention a couple of issues that can be quickly resolved. First, Plaintiffs were concerned that State Farm viewed punitive damages as an issue for the Court. State Farm takes no such position. Second, attorneys' fees, if awarded, will be awarded by the Court.

As for bifurcation, Mississippi law recognizes a distinction between contract-based damages and extra-contractual damages. The seminal case is Universal Life Insurance Co. v. Veasley, where the Mississippi Supreme Court found that punitive damages were not merited, but that an insurer's breach of contract without an arguable basis would allow a jury to award extra-contractual damages including awards for emotional distress, inconvenience and expense, attorneys' fees and the like...." 610 So.2d 290, 295 (Miss. 1992).

Neither extra-contractual nor punitive damages may go to the jury until the jury finds liability on the breach-of-contract claim and the Court finds no arguable basis for the insurer's position. See Broussard v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 523 F.3d 618 (5th Cir. 2008). Both of these decisions can ...


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