Insurance Cases, 2008/9 through 2013/14

I am always grateful to receive ideas for new topics, and one such suggestion pertained to the voting of the Supreme Court’s current members in insurance cases.  More specifically, two questions are posed here.  How frequently did individual justices vote in favor of insurance companies, and how frequently did pairs of justices vote together in these cases?  It seems to me that something can be done with this as long as we can formulate a reasonably clear and plausible category of cases to consider.  To this end I have tried to set fairly strict criteria that limit our set of cases to those that center on interpretations of (1) insurance policies or (2) statutes that the justices seek to apply to insurance companies. 

This approach excludes cases in which insurance companies are listed among the parties but do not figure in the discussion of issues on which a decision turns.  If, for instance, the Court determines that a person or company acted negligently, one can often conclude from the specifics of the case that an insurance company will ultimately have to pay some or all of the damages.  This might amount to an “insurance case” under an expansive definition of the term, but not necessarily for us.  If a decision hinges on a defendant’s negligence or the applicability of a certain statute, while ignoring the insurance company and the obligations and exclusions in its policy, that case is not included here.  This screening method has yielded 34 cases from the six terms (2008/9 through 2013/14) during which the Court’s current members have served together, and these cases are listed individually under the title “Decisions by Vote Split in Insurance Cases.”

Votes Favoring Insurance Companies
For the 34 insurance cases described above, the Court issued sixteen decisions that were favorable to insurance companies and eighteen decisions that were not.  As displayed below, the Court’s two most liberal justices, Abrahamson and Bradley, very rarely accepted the contentions of insurance companies—15% and 12% of the time, respectively.  In contrast, the three most conservative justices—Roggensack, Ziegler, and Gableman—found the insurance companies’ arguments persuasive in a majority of cases.  Justice Gableman stood out in this regard, siding with insurance companies 65% of the time.

  Number of votes favoring insurance companies Percentage of all votes cast by each justice

Abrahamson

5

5/34=15%

Bradley

4

4/34=12%

Crooks

14

14/34=41%

Prosser

15

15/31=48%

Roggensack

18

18/34=53%

Ziegler

19

19/34=56%

Gableman

22

22/34=65%

Levels of Disagreement Among Justices
As detailed in the tables grouped under the title “Agreement Among Pairs of Justices in Insurance Cases,” certain pairs of justices voted together in nearly all insurance cases, while other pairs found a good deal less common ground.  At one end of the agreement spectrum, Justices Abrahamson and Bradley voted together 97% of the time (and 95% of the time in non-unanimous decisions), as did Justices Roggensack and Ziegler.  At the other end of the spectrum, disagreement was nearly as striking.  Justice Abrahamson voted with Justice Ziegler in only 10% of non-unanimous decisions, for instance, which also proved to be the share of cases in which Justices Bradley and Gableman sided together.  Indeed, the voting disagreement between the two most liberal justices and their three most conservative colleagues has been slightly greater in insurance cases than it has been in cases of all types—civil and criminal taken together—as evident in the group of tables titled “Agreement Between ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ Justices.”

 For a complete set of tables—those mentioned in this post and several others pertaining to insurance cases—click here.

About Alan Ball

Alan Ball is a Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

alan.ball@marquette.edu

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 47 years.

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