Last week, a New York federal court ruled that an insurer’s “exceedingly broad duty to defend the insured” extended to the policyholder’s indemnification of its landlords in an underlying tort claim. ConMed Corporation (“ConMed”), a medical technology company, filed suit against Federal Insurance Company (“Federal”), a division of Chubb, alleging that Federal breached the terms of its insurance contract when it refused to defend ConMed’s landlords in a Georgia lawsuit.

The coverage dispute stemmed from ConMed employees’ claims that they were exposed to unsafe levels of ethylene oxide, a chemical used to sterilize ConMed’s equipment. Initially, the employees sued ConMed and its contractor that conducted the sterilization, but in April of 2021 the employees initiated a separate suit against ConMed’s landlords (“Landlord Action”). In the Landlord Action, plaintiff employees alleged negligence, aiding and abetting tortious conduct, fraud, wrongful death, and vicarious liability/respondeat superior claims, all stemming from their exposure to ethylene oxide. Pursuant to the lease agreement with ConMed, the landlords tendered the defense and indemnity of the Landlord Action to ConMed, which subsequently tendered the defense to Federal. Federal failed to accept defense of the Landlord Action, and ConMed filed suit.

Continue Reading NY Federal Court Rules Insurer Must Cover Policyholder’s Landlords Under Lease Agreement’s Indemnity Provision

An oft-seen version of the insuring agreement in Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies provides that the insurance company will pay for “any and all sums” the policyholder is “legally obligated to pay” for liabilities “imposed by law” or “assumed under contract.”  In an effort to disclaim coverage for liabilities arising out of or related to contract, insurers have argued that the prong for liabilities “imposed by law” refers to tort-based liabilities only, thus seeking to avoid liability with a relationship to contract.  This argument, however, defies the plain insuring language defining how the CGL policies are triggered.  This post explains why, under a proper reading of the insuring language, contract-based liabilities should qualify under the “imposed by law” prong of a CGL insuring agreement.
Continue Reading “Imposed by Law”: Coverage for Contract-Based Liabilities

In what is an unfortunate sign of the times, Springpoint Senior Living, Inc. recently sued its insurers in New Jersey federal court claiming they abruptly stopped covering Springpoint’s defense costs after doing so for nearly a decade.  A copy of the complaint can be found here. Springpoint’s allegations are emblematic of a growing trend among insurers taking drastic measures to avoid coverage, which is no doubt in response to the tightening economic conditions and looming recession around the globe. 
Continue Reading A Sign of the Times: Policyholder Forced to Sue Insurers to Resume Payment of Defense Costs

Texas is among the minority of states that permit few, if any, deviations from the “eight-corners rule,” which provides that an insurer’s duty to defend must be determined from the complaint and the policy, without regard to extrinsic evidence or facts. In Bitco Gen. Ins. Corp. v. Monroe Guar. Ins. Co., No. 19-51012, 2022 WL 1090800 (5th Cir. Apr. 12, 2022) (“Bitco”), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to consider extrinsic evidence in determining Bitco’s duty to defend and outlined when a court applying Texas law can deviate from the state’s strict eight-corners rule under the Monroe exception.
Continue Reading Texas Duty to Defend: To Deviate or Not to Deviate

One of the most valuable aspects of liability insurance is defense coverage, which protects policyholders from significant costs to defend against and litigate claims that may never result in a judgment or settlement. Companies and their directors and officers can incur thousands or even millions of dollars in defending against claims that are resolved long before trial. Even after purchasing robust defense coverage and getting an insurer to defend a claim, however, companies may be surprised when months or even years later the insurer reverses its position and not only withdraws from the defense but also demands repayment of all defense costs paid to date. A recent case, Evanston Insurance Co. v. Winstar Properties, Inc. No. 218CV07740RGKKES, 2022 WL 1309843 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2022), shows the perils of insurer “recoupment” and underscores the importance of assessing insurer recoupment rights, if any, throughout the claims process.
Continue Reading It’s Payback Time: California Ruling Highlights Recoupment Risks in Liability Claims

Law360 recently published a roundup of the biggest general liability rulings in the first quarter of 2022. As part of that roundup, it discussed Omega Protein, Inc. v. Evanston Insurance Company, which the Mississippi Supreme Court decided in January 2021. And it quoted Hunton Partner and practice group leader Syed Ahmad’s analysis of the opinion.
Continue Reading If Courts Have Said it Once They Have Said it a Million Times: Exclusions Susceptible to Multiple Reasonable Interpretations Are Ambiguous

In an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, a private equity firm has asked the court to reverse an order finding there was no coverage for a suit alleging it concealed that a facility it sold was run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. AKN Holdings had purchased a manufacturing facility in Reynosa, Mexico, from Thermo Fisher, unaware that the facility “was overrun” by the drug cartel of “El Chapo.” After discovering the concealment, AKN Holdings sued Thermo Fisher and, while that suit was pending, in turn sold the facility to FINSA, also without disclosing the cartel activities or its pending lawsuit.
Continue Reading Prison Break: Insurer Seeks to Escape Coverage for Suit Tied to “El Chapo”

A New Mexico court recently granted judgment on the pleadings against an insurer and found coverage, reminding the insurer that different words in a policy, indeed, have different meanings.

In Power of Grace, LLC v. Weatherby, Power of Grace, a policyholder, sued its insurer, Hudson Insurance Companies, and its insurance agent, Weatherby-Eisenrich Inc.  Power of Grace alleged that Weatherby and Hudson were liable for damages it might incur in an underlying wrongful death lawsuit arising from a tractor-trailer accident. 
Continue Reading Tomato-Tomato? – New Mexico Court Offers Insurer a $5 Million Reminder that Different Words Have Different Meanings

The Central District of California recently rejected an attempt by Federal Insurance Company, a Chubb company, to avoid its duty to defend its insureds in an $8.5 million lawsuit with a former employee.

TriPacific Capital Advisors, LLC acquired Directors and Officers (D&O) coverage from Federal and Employment Practices Liability (EPL) coverage from Travelers Insurance Company. While those policies were in effect, a former TriPacific employee sued the company and its president, Geoffrey Fearns, for a variety of employment-related causes of action concerning his termination and compensation. TriPacific and Fearns tendered notice to both insurers, seeking indemnification and defense costs. Both policies contained a duty to defend.  While Travelers agreed to defend under a reservation of rights, Federal denied coverage based on multiple grounds, including its policy’s “other insurance” provision, contending that the provision rendered its policy “excess” to the Travelers policy.  Federal also argued that TriPacific had not satisfied the D&O policy’s $150,000 self-insured retention and, thus, coverage had not been implicated, in any event. TriPacific maintained that neither the SIR nor the “other insurance” provision pertained to Federal’s duty to defend and brought suit to enforce the duty to defend.
Continue Reading Potential Coverage Garners Total Defense: “Other Insurance” Provision Does Not Relieve Insurer’s Duty to Defend

Last month, the US District Court for the District of Connecticut granted an insurer’s motion for summary judgment in the case of Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA, No. 3:19cv839 (JBA), finding that there was no coverage under a directors & officers policy for defense costs associated with responding to a government subpoena. Last week, in line with our commentary, which highlighted several critical flaws in the court’s initial ruling, the court reversed itself and granted reconsideration, finding that there actually is coverage.
Continue Reading Court Corrects its Own Error in Win for D&O Policyholders