State Farm Faces Lawsuit for Denying Coverage in Wire Fraud Incident


(CALIFORNIA) – A California federal court has ruled against State Farm in a coverage dispute with a property owners association (HOA). The HOA, Bridlewood Estates, sued State Farm for denying directors and officers (D&O) coverage after falling victim to a wire fraud scheme.

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Caught in a Wire Transfer Scam

The case involves Bridlewood Estates Property Owners Association (HOA). In September 2022, Bridlewood received an invoice from Aztec Paving for asphalt repairs performed on their property. Shortly after receiving the legitimate invoice, a hacker impersonating Aztec’s project manager sent a fraudulent email requesting payment via wire transfer. Bridlewood’s treasurer, Owen Thomas, unfortunately fell victim to the scam and wired the entire $124,000 payment to the hacker’s account.

State Farm Denies Coverage, Lawsuit Ensues

After discovering the fraudulent transfer, Aztec filed a lien against Bridlewood for nonpayment. State Farm, however, denied coverage for the lien, arguing that Aztec’s claim stemmed from a contractual obligation, not a wrongful act covered by the D&O policy. Bridlewood subsequently faced a lawsuit from Aztec and additional financial burdens.

HOA Fights Back, Court Sides with Them

Undeterred, Bridlewood sued State Farm for breach of contract and bad faith denial of coverage. The California court sided with the HOA, finding that Aztec’s underlying lawsuit potentially falls under D&O coverage due to Thomas’s alleged mistake. Here’s the key takeaway:

In a ruling issued on Monday, U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia denied State Farm’s motion to dismiss, finding that Bridlewood sufficiently alleged that its loss falls within the scope of coverage provided by the policy’s D&O endorsement.

“To the extent that the association is found liable in the underlying suit brought by Aztec Paving Inc., the basis of that liability would be the alleged wrongful act committed by the association’s treasurer, Owen Thomas,” Judge Battaglia stated.

The judge emphasized that “but for the treasurer’s negligent acts, Aztec’s payment would not have been misdirected into a hacker’s account, Aztec would have received the payment, and [Bridlewood] would not have incurred the claimed losses.”

State Farm had argued that Aztec’s claim against Bridlewood was not based on a director or officer’s wrongful act but rather the association’s failure to fulfill a contractual obligation. However, Judge Battaglia rejected this argument, stating that the D&O endorsement does not expressly exclude contractual liabilities.

“Indeed, it delineates nineteen different exclusions; none are for contractual violations,” the judge noted. Extrinsic evidence presented by Bridlewood, showing that its treasurer was allegedly misled by a hacker into misdirecting the payment, also suggests a potential for coverage under the D&O endorsement, according to the judge.

  • Policy Wording Matters: The D&O policy did not explicitly exclude coverage for contractual liabilities.

Impact on Insurers and Policyholders

The ruling highlights the importance of carefully reviewing and interpreting policy language in the context of specific claims scenarios. As Samuel Lopez, a legal analyst and investigative paralegal, notes, “Insurers must thoroughly evaluate the underlying facts and circumstances before denying coverage, especially in cases involving complex issues like wire fraud and cyber-related losses.”

Samuel’s Perspective:

 “The Bridlewood case underscores the complexities of D&O insurance and the potential for misinterpretations. Policyholders should be proactive in understanding their coverage and seek clarification from their insurers if uncertainties arise. Additionally, insurers should engage in a more collaborative approach when evaluating coverage claims.”

For more in-depth news and analysis, visit USA Herald:

Case Details

  • Case Name: Bridlewood Estates Property Owners Association vs. State Farm General Insurance Co.
  • Case Number: 3:23-CV-00195
  • Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California
  • Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Joseph Oliva and Matthew Toothacre of Joseph Oliva & Associates PC
  • Defendant’s Attorneys: David Tartaglio, Steve Elie and Michelle Ferrara of Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP