Merlin Law Group attorneys Mike Duffy, Christina Phillips, & Ed Eshoo

Mike Duffy, Ed Eshoo, and Christina Phillips head up Merlin Law Group’s Chicago office. As far as I am concerned, they are the best insurance lawyers in Chicago, and we are very lucky to have them hitching their stars to the Merlin Law Group wagon.

Mike Duffy was absent last Friday from a scheduled speech at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Mike, Christina Phillips, and Ed Eshoo had a trial involving a bowling alley’s insurance claim in Chicago starting this Monday. As luck would have it, Ed Eshoo’s arguments won over the judge at several pre-trial motions on Friday and the case settled over the weekend. I told Mike Duffy that great trial results and settlements come from intensive trial preparation and that the client’s interest far outweighed any speech.

Mike Duffy heads up Merlin Law Group’s trial division. I feel that every client of the firm deserves a great trial attorney backing up the lead attorney in any case. So, Duffy often is flying all over the country, helping attorneys in trial preparation. More often than not, those cases settle just before trial begins, but I am certain they settled for a lot more because we have a dedicated team of trial attorneys working with those who may have less trial experience.

Ed Eshoo is as competitive a person as any that I have met. Maybe it comes from growing up in a basketball playing family, as noted in my blog highlighting his daughter Emily Eshoo, Insurance Agent Versus Experienced Policyholder Attorney Viewpoints About Insurance Coverage Denials. I am happy Ed is arguing for policyholders rather than insurers.

Christina Phillips was the Chair of the Property Insurance Law Subcommittee of the American Bar Association. I was a Vice-chair for eight years but was always passed over as the Chairperson. It is a very prestigious position which few obtain in our area of insurance law. Christina flies all over the Midwest handling property insurance cases, and I feel lucky when I get a chance to see her when visiting the Chicago office.

Since their case involved a bowling alley, it reminded me of a bad faith denial case where my dear friend, the late Michael Barranco, testified as an expert witness. A bowling alley wrongly had its claim denied because the insurance company relied upon underwriting technicalities to avoid its claims payment obligation. In Michigan Mutual Insurance Company v. Sports, Inc., d/b/a Imperial Lanes of Sports, Inc.,1 the court upheld a bad faith verdict with punitive damages noting:

The Michigan Mutual claims manual provided that where ‘all parties in good faith intended the coverage to be written and Company rules would have permitted its acceptance,’ and a technical error occurred in notifying the company, that situation deserves special consideration. No such consideration was undertaken…despite the unequivocal testimony of an intent to afford coverage…and the belief that such coverage existed on the part of Sports, Inc.

Michael Barranco testified as an expert witness with thirty years of experience in the insurance industry and its claims handling practices. Based upon his background, his knowledge of insurance industry practice, and the review of Michigan Mutual’s claims manual, Barranco expressed the following opinions. First, Barranco opined that Michigan Mutual’s denial of the bowling alley’s claim was unfounded and improper for several reasons. Sports, Inc. had insurance coverage under the binder dated May 31, 1991, under the name change application dated May 31, 1991, and pursuant to the terms of the company’s claims manual. Further, Michigan Mutual, the Hopper agency and Miller had engaged in a ‘course of dealing’ whereby the insurance company allowed its agents ‘to deviate from the strict language’ of its agency agreement, thereby prohibiting the insurance company from ‘later com[ing] back and tak[ing] a different position.’ In addition, Barranco found Michigan Mutual’s denial of the bowling alley’s claim to be unreasonable, unfounded, and improper by virtue of the existence of an effective binder and the course of dealing leading up to the issuance of that binder. Moreover, despite the rhetoric of its letter of June 19, 1991, Michigan Mutual had made no determination of insurability. He found a ‘clearly intentional failure to conduct a competent objective investigation into the issue of insurability.’ Finally, Barranco opined that Michigan Mutual had failed to comply with its claims manual requirement that claims not be refused ‘without conducting a reasonable investigation based on all information.’ Specifically, Michigan Mutual failed to conduct an investigation into the course of dealing involved in the instant insurance policy.


The jury returned a verdict for Imperial Lanes of Sports, Inc…..and awarded compensatory damages of $78,047.81 and punitive damages of $1,000,000.

My hat is off to Ed Eshoo, Christina Phillips and Mike Duffy for their dedicated work for policyholders. My fond memories of Michael Barranco and his kind patient teaching were resurrected because I came across this bowling alley case while researching for this post.

Thought For They Day

If there were no bad people there would be no good lawyers.
—Charles Dickens

Song For The Day

How about a song from Chicago?

1 Michigan Mutual Ins. Co. v. Sports, Inc., 698 N.E. 2d 834 (Ind. App. 1998).