Case of the Day: DeTray v. AIG

The case of the day is DeTray v. AIG Insurance Co. (W.D. Wash. 2018). Tammy and Gregory DeTray, who resided in Washington, were in the business of providing “pilot vehicles,” those cars with flags on them that accompany tractor trailers with oversize loads on the highways. In 2013, one of these trucks collided with a bridge in Washington, causing the bridge to collapse. Tammy DeTray was driving the pilot vehicle accompanying the truck. The truck was owned and operated by Mullen Trucking 2005 Ltd., a Canadian corporation, which was insured by Northbridge General Insurance Corporation, a Canadian insurance company. AIG was the excess insurer.

The State of Washington sued Mullen and DeTray in the Skagit County (Washington) Superior Court. Mullen brought cross-claims against DeTray. DeTray sought defense and indemnity from Northbridge. Northbridge agreed to defend Mullen but it refused to defend DeTray on the grounds that she was not an insured. Northbridge sued DeTray in a court in Alberta seeking a declaration that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify DeTray. DeTray then sued Northbridge in the Skagit County Superior Court, seeking a declaration that Northbridge did have such an obligation. The case was removed to the District Court. The Canadian case went to judgment first, the court finding that Northbridge had no obligation to DeTray. The question in the US case, on cross-motions for summary judgment, was whether the Canadian judgment was res judicata. The judgment was not a money judgment, so the question had to be decided under common law rather than under a judgment recognition statute.

The key point was personal jurisdiction. Northbridge claimed that the Canadian court had personal jurisdiction because DeTray had submitted a claim to it at its offices in Alberta; Northbridge had no offices in the United States. Northbridge also pointed out that DeTray was seeking to benefit from a contract between two Canadian parties. But the court found this unpersuasive:

Following Northbridge’s logic, the submission of a claim to a Canadian insurance company regardless of where the events giving rise to the claim occurred is a sufficient minimum contact to satisfy due process even where the claimant has no other contacts with that forum.

Thus it held that the Canadian judgment could not be recognized and denied Northbridge’s motion for summary judgment.

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