In an important decision for policyholders, a New York state appellate court rejected AIG’s effort to avoid defending McGraw-Hill in a series of copyright suits.  In doing so, it reversed the trial court and rejected the insurer’s attempted use of the contract exclusion and fortuity doctrine as a bar to coverage under various multimedia liability insurance policies.

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In Ferguson v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, found that a public entity liability policy covered the injuries sustained by a man that had been wrongfully convicted, notwithstanding that the policy was issued years after the relevant prosecution.  The court’s ruling is in stark contrast to the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sanders v. Illinois Union Insurance Co., No. 124565, 2019 WL6199651 (Ill. Nov. 21, 2019), the subject of a prior blog, where the court found that it was the policies in place at the time of the wrongful prosecution that provided coverage for the offense.  In our earlier blog, we discussed the costly consequences the Sanders decision could impose on policyholders in Illinois.  Although reaching an opposite conclusion than Sanders, Ferguson is based on different policy language and, ultimately, does not appear to be inconsistent with the Sanders decision.  While certainly a welcomed decision from a policyholder’s perspective, Ferguson and Sanders highlight the importance that policy wording can play in defining the scope of an insurance program and how similar factual scenarios can result in drastically different coverages based on seemingly minor differences in policy wording.  A copy of the Ferguson decision can be found here.

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Few areas of New York law as complex and nuanced as the law regarding an insurer’s duties to defend and indemnify.  To help practitioners efficiently navigate this area of the law, Hunton Andrew Kurth insurance attorneys Michael S. Levine and Kevin V. Small authored a Q&A guide published by Practical Law.  The full article is

In a recent decision, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reiterated that the duty to defend broadly requires a liability insurer to defend an entire lawsuit against its insured, even where only some of the allegations are potentially covered.  The court further held that the insured has no obligation to apportion defense costs among multiple implicated policies.  The decision, Selective Way Insurance Company v. Nationwide Property and Casualty Insurance Company, et al., can be found here.

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In Dunn, et al. v. Columbia National Insurance Company, No. 2:17-cv-0246 (N.D. Ga.), an insurance company refused to defend an insured in a personal injury claim contending that the insured failed to cooperate in the defense. The underlying claim stemmed from an automobile accident, where an employee of Lawson Air Conditioning and Plumbing, Inc. (“Lawson”), Ronald Patterson, struck members of the Dunn family with a pickup truck owned by Lawson as the family was walking out of a Walmart store. The Dunn family members suffered bodily injury as a proximate result of the accident.  Patterson admitted fault.

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A federal court in Illinois ruled recently, in Cincinnati Insurance Company v. H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Company, that Cincinnati Insurance Company was required to indemnify H.D. Smith for a $3.5 million settlement it reached with the State of West Virginia.  The settlement resolved an action in which West Virginia alleged that H.D. Smith contributed to the state’s opioid addiction epidemic through its negligent distribution of opioid prescription drugs.

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The Seventh Circuit held last week that a manufacturer’s insurer must cover its insured, a designer and builder of anaerobic digesters, under its errors and omissions policy for claims alleging breach of contract, despite an exclusion in the policy for claims arising out of the breach of an express or oral contract. The decision in Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company v. DVO, Inc., No. 18-2571 (7th Cir. Sept. 23, 2019), illustrates the practical application of policy construction to avoid what would otherwise amount to an illusory promise of coverage.
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A Florida district court recently held that an insurer wrongfully refused to defend a Miami-based strip club in a lawsuit filed by 17 models claiming that the club used their images to promote its business without their authorization. The insurer was required to defend the club for allegations of defamation under the policy’s personal and advertising coverage even though 16 of the 17 plaintiffs’ claims alleged conduct outside the covered policy period and no plaintiffs brought a cause of action for “defamation.” The decision highlights the broad duty to defend, in Florida and elsewhere, that policyholders should emphasize when pursuing coverage.

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On September 18, 2019, a Texas federal court vacated its prior ruling and entered summary judgment for the insured, finding that after a hacker impersonating the customer convinced the insured to wire $1 million out of the customer’s account, the insurer had a duty to defend its insured against claims by its customer because the potential for coverage existed.  See Quality Sausage Company, LLC, et al. v. Twin City Fire Insurance Co., Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-111 (S.D.TX) (Dkt. No. 110).  The prior order was based on disputed extrinsic evidence, which the court considered in deciding the duty to defend, even though Texas’ narrow exception to the “eight corners” rule is limited to only undisputed extrinsic evidence.

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