The Hawaii Supreme Court emphatically rejected insurer efforts to seek reimbursement of defense costs absent a provision in the policy providing for such reimbursement in St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company v. Bodell Construction Company, No. SCCQ-22-0000658, 2023 WL 7517083, (Haw. Nov. 14, 2023). The state high court’s well-reasoned decision rests on bedrock law regarding insurance policy construction and application, follows the nationwide trend of courts compelling insurers to satisfy their contractual obligations in full, and should carry great weight as other jurisdictions continue to debate the same issue.Continue Reading Hawaii Supreme Court Says Aloha to Insurers Trying to Recoup Defense Costs From Policyholders

Extreme weather events—such as heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes—may create major protection gaps for insureds. In California, rising temperatures and massive heat waves have led the California Department of Insurance (the “Department”) to rethink risk solutions and insurance programs that protect the state’s communities from the risks associated with extreme heat. While the Department’s proposed solution applies only to coverage for local governments, Tribes, and public health agencies, it is a “hot” topic among many Californians, as insurance professionals and policyholders debate the Department’s proposed approval of parametric insurance.Continue Reading The Heated Debate Over the California Department of Insurance’s Heat Community Policy and Parametric Underwriting

An insurer for University of Southern California recently filed suit in California federal court against the university and a former gynecologist at USC’s Student Health Center seeking to rescind USC’s insurance policy.  The dispute concerns North American Capacity Insurance Company’s coverage obligations for hundreds of sexual abuse-based lawsuits brought against USC.  NACIC seeks, among other things, to rescind a policy it sold to USC based on alleged failures by USC to disclose material facts during the policy application process.  NACIC is also seeking to avoid its coverage obligations under the policy’s “Prior Known Acts” exclusion.Continue Reading Coverage Lawsuit Against USC Highlights How Prior Events Can Impact Coverage

On February 6, 2023, The Claims Journal highlighted a letter by members of Hunton’s insurance team, submitted on behalf of United Policyholders, to the California Supreme Court, which alerts the Court to the fundamental infirmities in the “standard” expounded by the insurance industry in COVID-19 business interruption litigations nationwide. The letter was issued to assist the Court in addressing a question certified from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Another Planet Entertainment, LLC v. Vigilant Insurance Co, asking whether the actual or potential presence of the COVID-19 virus on an insured’s premises “constitute direct physical loss or damage to property” for purposes of coverage under a commercial property insurance policy.
Continue Reading Hunton Insurance Team Alerts California Supreme Court to “Physical Alteration” Fallacy

One of the threshold issues in COVID-19 insurance coverage cases that have been brought across the country is whether the policyholder’s allegations meet the applicable pleading standard in alleging that the virus caused physical loss or damage. In many cases, the courts have gotten it wrong, effectively holding policyholders to a higher standard than required. But recently, a California federal judge righted those wrongs by acknowledging the correct pleading standard in that case, which is whether the allegations state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The Court, here, correctly recognized that the policyholder, the Los Angeles Lakers, met that pleading standard when it alleged that the COVID-19 virus can cause physical loss or damage by physically altering property.
Continue Reading California Court Forces Insurer to Play Ball in COVID-19 Insurance Coverage Suit

From IRS rulings that “virtual currency” is taxed as “property” to an SEC lawsuit claiming that digital assets are “securities” under federal law, meteoric growth of the largely unregulated crypto industry has raised numerous questions about whether crypto-related risks are covered by insurance. In the latest example of the intersection of crypto and insurance, a California federal court recently held that cryptocurrency stolen from a Coinbase account did not constitute a covered loss under a homeowner’s insurance policy. The fundamental issue was whether the stolen crypto met the policy’s requirement for “direct physical loss to property” and, more specifically, whether the losses were “physical” in nature. The court ruled against coverage, reasoning that lost control of cryptocurrency is not a direct physical loss as a matter of California law.
Continue Reading California Holds Stolen Cryptocurrency Does Not Qualify as “Physical” Loss Under Homeowners’ Policy

Recently, the Ninth Circuit dealt with a case involving a scenario that is becoming all too common. In Ernst & Haas Mgmt. Co., Inc. v. Hiscox, Inc., 23 F.4th 1195 (9th Cir. 2022), a property management company’s accounts payable clerk received several e-mails from her supervisor instructing her to pay some invoices. Unbeknownst to the clerk, these e-mails did not originate with her supervisor, but were actually part of a fraudulent scheme to elicit fraudulent bank transfers. The clerk paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars in “invoices” before becoming suspicious but, by then, it was too late and the damage was done.
Continue Reading A Win for Policyholders Who Are Victims of Fraudulent Bank Transfer Schemes

Court dockets, both in the state and federal court systems, have seen a massive influx of COVID-19 business interruption insurance cases since the pandemic began in March of 2020.  More recently, cases have been moving more expeditiously through the federal courts, and the circuit courts are starting to issue decisions. Most recently, the Ninth Circuit has spoken and its decisions provide important guidance for policyholders with pending COVID-19 coverage cases in California federal courts.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Decisions Reject Coverage for COVID Orders, Leaving Door Open for Cases Presenting Damage Claims