Appeals court sides with Great American Insurance client in dispute over $1.4 million crop damage award

By Charmaine Little | Feb 7, 2019

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently vacated a district court ruling that rejected an arbitration panel decision to award $1.4 million in a crop damage claim filed with Great American Insurance Company.

The appeals court issued its Jan 31 opinion after Jonathan L. Russell appealed a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to vacate an arbitration award Russell received from the insurance company for denying his damage claim concerning his 2013 corn crop.

According to the ruling, Russell's crop suffered damage from drought, rootworm and heavy winds.

“Because the arbitrators rendered a sufficiently mutual, final, and definite award, vacatur was improper,” the appeals court said in its opinion, that also remanded the case for further proceedings.

The appeals court said it was not convinced that the arbitration panel made the wrong move when it didn’t provide a detailed breakdown of the award and the amount. Instead, the appeals court determined the arbitration panel offered a sufficient explanation for why it reached that amount for the award.

“Although the panel simply adopted the calculation of Russell’s expert, Great American failed to contest this calculation or provide its own alternative at the evidentiary hearing,” the appeals court said. It added that it was not the arbitrator’s responsibility to detail the awarded amount, but simply explain its decision, which the panel did.

Russell filed a claim with Great America after damage in 2013 to his corn and soybean crops in in Atchison, Holt and Nodaway counties. Great American denied his claims and Russell took the case to arbitration where he was awarded $1,433,008 for corn crop damage, but denied his clam concerning his soybeans. Great American moved for the award to be vacated or changed, and the district court agreed, leading Russell to appeal.

Circuit Judge Jane L. Kelly wrote the opinion with Circuit Judges Raymond Gruender and Steven Grasz concurring.

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