Canadian Underwriter

Insurance lawyer now a Saskatchewan appeal court judge

September 24, 2018   by Greg Meckbach

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A lawyer who used to represent Saskatchewan’s auto insurer is now a judge with the province’s appeal court, the federal government announced Friday.

Robert Leurer represented Saskatchewan Government Insurance on several occasions during the 31 years he practised law for MLT Aikins. Justice Leurer also represented a carrier in a claims dispute that resulted in one of the largest bad-faith damage awards against Canadian insurers in history.

A Court of Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan judge since late 2017, Justice Leurer was elevated to the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan by federal attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Justice Leurer was on Zurich’s legal defense team in Zurich Life Insurance Company Limited v Branco, a breach-of-contract judgement in Saskatchewan against both Zurich and American Home, a subsidiary of American International Group Inc.

Branco arose from a workplace disability claim but it still caught the eye of property and casualty insurers. Initially, plaintiff Luciano Branco was awarded $4.5 million in punitive damages alone because the insurers were ruled to have denied claims arising from the same injury in bad faith. The punitive damages were later reduced on appeal.

The original 2013 ruling – by Justice Murray Acton of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench – was one of the largest punitive damage awards against an insurer in Canadian history, wrote McLennan Ross LLP lawyers Don McGarvey and Tara Argent in History in the Making, an article published in Claims Canada magazine.

The verdict served as a reminder to all insurers to treat their clients fairly and in good faith, McGarvey and Argent wrote at the time. Good faith requires claims professionals to refrain from denying claims without adequate justification and to undertake adequate investigations, said Stephen Scullion, then manager of Granite Claims Solutions’ Kitchener-Waterloo office, said during the 2013 joint conference of the Ontario chapters of the Canadian Independent Adjusters’ Association (CIAA) and Canadian Insurance Claims Managers’ Association (CICMA).

Branco was a Portuguese welder who worked during the late 1990s in Kyrgyzstan for a subsidiary of Saskatoon-based mining company Cameco Corp. Zurich was the firm’s long-term disability insurer and AIG was firm’s the workers’ compensation insurer. Branco dropped a steel plate on his foot and claimed benefits with both Zurich and AIG. He had a number of disputes with both insurers.

Although punitive damages against Zurich and AIG were reduced, the court of appeal agreed both insurers still acted in bad faith.

In addition to defending Zurich in Branco, Justice Leuer has also argued cases before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court, the justice department said Sept. 21, 2018 in a release.

He has worked in commercial, insurance, personal injury, privacy, constitutional and administrative law. He has also served as president of the Canadian Bar Association, Saskatchewan Branch.

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