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In First Mercury Insurance Co. v. First Florida Building Corp., et al., a federal district court ordered that an insurer had a duty to defend its insured against an underlying personal injury lawsuit. 2023 WL 23116, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 3, 2023). First Mercury is a cautionary tale about how insurers may try to circumvent their obligations by improperly considering extrinsic evidence when determining whether they have a duty to defend their insureds.

Continue Reading Insurer Could Not Rely on Extrinsic Evidence to Circumvent Its Duty to Defend  
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Congratulations to Alice Weeks, an associate on the Hunton Andrews Kurth insurance coverage team, for recently being named as an inaugural honoree for the Miami Dade Bar’s Young Lawyers Section 40 Under 40 awards. 

The Miami Dade Bar Young Lawyers Section (YLS) is comprised of attorneys aged 36 and under. Alice was selected out of a large group of nominees and will be recognized, along with other young leaders in the legal profession from the Miami Dade area, at the YLS’s premier event, Miami Nights. Alice is a past board member of the Miami Dade Bar YLS, as well as past-editor of the Miami Dade Bar’s newsletter, the Bulletin. Alice was also recently named among the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s 40 Under 40 Outstanding Young Professionals of South Florida.

Congrats, Alice!

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In a recent opinion, the Northern District Court of Illinois reaffirmed the bedrock principle that an insurer’s duty to defend is broad and triggered by any allegations in a complaint that potentially fall within a policy’s coverage grant.  In Harleysville Pref. Ins. Co. v. Dude Products Inc., et. al., Case No. 21-c-5249 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 21, 2022), the insured, Dude Products, Inc., sought coverage from its insurer, Harleysville Preferred Insurance Company, against a class action lawsuit that alleged Dude Products intentionally and falsely marketed its wipes as “flushable” even though the product allegedly did not break apart and caused “clogs and other sewage damage.” 

Continue Reading Insurer Can’t Flush Away Its Duty to Defend
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Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in EMOI Services, L.L.C. v. Owners Ins. Co., 2022 WL 17905839 (Ohio, Dec. 27, 2022), that a policyholder did not suffer direct physical loss of or damage to computer media that was encrypted and rendered unusable.  The Court reached its ruling even though “media” was defined in the policy to include “computer software,” concluding that software does not have a “physical existence.” The Supreme Court’s decision reverses an Ohio appellate court’s earlier ruling that the cyberattack triggered coverage under a commercial property insurance policy and builds upon plainly distinguishable rulings in COVID-19 business interruption cases, such as Santo’s Italian Café, L.L.C. v. Acuity Ins. Co., 15 F.4th 398, 402 (6th Cir. 2021), where the Sixth Circuit found that government orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic did not physically alter insured property.

Continue Reading Ohio Supreme Court Launches COVID-19 Holdings into Cyberspace; Denies Coverage for Physical Loss or Damage to Computer Software
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The Insurance Coverage Law Center has published an article in which Hunton insurance recovery partner, Michael Levine, exposes evidence of insurance company sins unearthed in the COVID-19 business interruption insurance litigation battleground.  The article discusses evidence obtained from four of the largest property and business income insurers, which tends to prove that long before COVID-19, each understood virus and communicable disease to pose a risk of physical loss or damage sufficient to trigger coverage under their respective all-risk insurance products.  A copy of the article is available here, with permission from the Insurance Coverage Law Center.

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The Fourth Circuit recently held that a “literal” interpretation of a North Carolina insurance law was “poppycock.” Whitmire v. S. Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co., No. 21-1643 (4th Cir. 2022). The case involved a North Carolina statute that required an insurer to provide notice by mail addressed to the insured’s “last known post-office address in this State.” The person that was to receive notice under the statute had lived in North Carolina but then moved to South Carolina. The insurer provided notice at the person’s South Carolina address. It did not provide notice at the person’s last known address in North Carolina. So the beneficiary of the life insurance argued that notice did not meet the North Carolina statute because it was not provided at “last known post-office address in this State,” i.e. North Carolina.

Continue Reading Court: “Literal” Reading Of Insurance Statute Is “Poppycock”
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The Fourth Circuit recently affirmed insurance coverage for a South Carolina policyholder based on the “axiomatic principle” that an insurer which fails to fully and fairly articulate its potential coverage defenses in a reservation of rights letter loses the right to contest coverage on those grounds. Stoneledge at Lake Keowee Owner’s Assoc. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., No. 19-2009, 2022 WL 17592121 (4th Cir. 2022) (quoting Harleysville Group Insurance v. Heritage Communities, Inc., 803 S.E.2d 288 (S.C. 2017)). More particularly, in Stoneledge, the Fourth Circuit affirmed per curiam a South Carolina District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a homeowners association that had successfully sued its general contractors for construction defects and was seeking to recover the damages owed from the contractors’ insurers. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the insurers’ vague reservation of rights letters failed to reserve the defenses on which the insurers purported to deny coverage.

Continue Reading Without Reservations: Fourth Circuit Affirms That Vague Reservation of Rights Waived Insurers’ Coverage Arguments
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A review of insurance policies at renewal should be on every business’s annual task list—and it should be checked twice! Just as your business grows and evolves every year, so should your insurance program. Together with staying proactive and preparing for renewal months before the policy expiration, there are a number of best practices to put your business in the best position to maximize insurance recovery, including shopping around, evaluating changes to your business, engaging the appropriate stakeholders, and performing a policy audit with a coverage attorney.

Continue Reading Policy Renewals: Has Your Insurer Been Naughty or Nice?
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On November 23, 2022, a federal court in Minnesota highlighted the importance of strategically approaching product liability claims, both in terms of their underlying defense and their insurability. In Federal Insurance Company v. 3M Company, No. 21-2093 (JRT/DTS), 2022 WL 17176889 (D. Minn. Nov. 23, 2022), the court rejected the insurer’s attempt to treat each underlying lawsuit as a separate occurrence, thereby maximizing per-occurrence deductibles, and instead found that the manufacture of the allegedly defective medical devices was the sole occurrence responsible for each of the lawsuits. 3M, therefore, was only required to pay a single deductible.

Continue Reading Court Holds that Design and Manufacture of Allegedly Injurious Product is Only One Occurrence, In Win for Policyholders
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In Yahoo, Inc. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA., the California Supreme Court confirmed that contra proferentem and other rules of policy interpretation apply even to language insurers argue is “manuscript” as long as the provisions in question use standard-form policy terms. There, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to answer a certified question regarding whether a commercial general liability policy (CGL) covers defense costs related to claims under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) (47 U.S.C. § 227). Following a thorough and thoughtful assessment of California law involving fundamental rules of policy interpretation, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the policyholder, Yahoo, Inc. (“Yahoo!”). The authors of this article represented amicus curiae, United Policyholders, in support of Yahoo! before the California Supreme Court. 

Continue Reading Unanimous California Supreme Court Affirms Breadth of Policy-Interpretation Rules in Confirming That CGL Policies Cover TCPA Liabilities