A federal court in New Jersey recently held that the construction of an ambiguous policy term is not a matter suitable for judgment on the pleadings, thus denying AIG from avoiding coverage for a $67 million antitrust settlement. Rather, the only way to establish the meaning of an ambiguous term, the court explained, is to ascertain the intent of the parties, which requires “meaningful discovery.”
The Eleventh Circuit, in Mid-Continent Casualty Co. v. Adams Homes of Northwest Florida, Inc., No. 17-12660, 2018 WL 834896, at * 3-4 (11th Cir. Feb. 13, 2018) (per curiam), recently held under Florida law that a homebuilder’s alleged failure to implement a proper drainage system that allowed for neighborhood flooding triggered a general liability insurer’s duty to defend because the allegations involved a potentially covered loss of use of covered property.
A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Byron of the Middle District of Florida has made clear that the actual words used in an insurance contract matter. The court, in Mt. Hawley Insurance Co. v. Tactic Security Enforcement, Inc., No. 6:16-cv-01425 (M.D. FL. 2018), denied an insurance company’s motion for summary judgment attempting to rely on an exclusion to deny coverage to its policyholder. The policyholder, Que Rico La Casa Del Mofongo, operated a restaurant establishment in Orlando, Florida, and sought coverage for two negligence lawsuits filed against it for allegedly failing to prevent a shooting and another violent incident on its premises.
An Iowa federal court recently ruled that an insurer must pay its policyholder’s defense costs from the date of installation of the allegedly faulty product, even though the underlying suits failed to allege when damage purportedly occurred. The ruling opens the door under each of the policyholder’s successive liability policies from 2000 to 2008, allowing the policyholder to recover millions of dollars in defense costs.
On January 9, 2018, the Northern District of California held that the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance of California owed defense coverage to a pair of Scientology-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers for two lawsuits filed in Georgia and Oklahoma alleging that staff members had provided drugs and alcohol to patients, which resulted in injury and death. In Western World Ins. Co. v. Nonprofits Ins. Alliance of California, No. 14-cv-04466-EJD (N.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2018), the court confirmed the broad scope of an insurer’s duty to defend under California law and rejected the insurer’s attempt to unreasonably expand the application of a “professional services” exclusion to avoid coverage.
Hunton & Williams insurance partner, Syed Ahmad, was quoted twice in Law360 concerning significant insurance cases to watch in 2018. On January 1, 2018, Ahmad noted that Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co., pending in the California Supreme Court, “can be significant for coverage disputes in California because the California rule could override the law of the state that would apply otherwise, even if the parties agreed to another state’s law governing,” On January 9, 2018, Ahmad was again asked by Law360 to comment on key D&O cases that will likely be decided in 2018. Ahmad noted that in Patriarch Partners LLC v. Axis Insurance Co., pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Patriarch’s appeal presents an unusual situation in which a policyholder is arguing that various developments in an ongoing SEC investigation don’t constitute a claim under a D&O policy, in order to avoid the application of an exclusion. In other circumstances, it may be favorable for a policyholder to assert that a preliminary step in an SEC probe is a claim, so as to maximize coverage. According to Ahmad, the district court didn’t fully address how, in the context of the specific policy language at issue, a non-public order by the SEC could qualify as a claim. “As Patriarch argues, ‘until an agency makes a demand upon the target under legal compulsion, there may be no way for a policyholder to even know that it is being investigated, that an order authorizing investigation has been issued against it or what the order of investigation says,'” Ahmad said, quoting from Patriarch’s appellate brief.
In Selective Ins. Co. of the Southeast v. William P. White Racing Stables, Inc. (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-11th-circuit/1882819.html), the Eleventh Circuit recently ruled that a liability insurer is not required to defend its insured against a claim for spoliation of evidence. In the underlying case a jockey, James Rivera, was paralyzed in a racing accident when the horse he was riding suddenly collapsed. Mr. Rivera sued the race track, Mr. Rivera’s employer, and the horse’s veterinarians, claiming that the horse was not fit to be raced due to the negligence of most of the defendants. His claims against his employer, White Racing Stables, did not assert negligence but alleged that by failing to preserve the horse’s remains, White Racing had violated Florida’s workers compensation law by failing to investigate and pursue Mr. Rivera’s claims against the other defendants. He also asserted a claim for spoliation.
In an article published in Law360, Hunton & Williams LLP partners Walter Andrews, Malcolm Weiss, and I discuss two recent decisions in Tree Top Inc. v. Starr Indem. & Liab. Co., No. 1:15-CV-03155-SMJ, 2017 WL 5664718 (E.D. Wash. Nov. 21, 2017). There, the Eastern District of Washington rejected an insurer’s attempt to escape insurance coverage for a Proposition 65 lawsuit filed against juice-maker Tree Top Inc.
Continue Reading “3 Takeaways Squeezed Out of Juicer’s Insurance Battle” – Hunton Attorneys Discuss Insurance Coverage for Prop. 65 Claims and Key Takeaways from Recent Set of Washington District Court Rulings.
Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court agreed to review Montrose Chemical Corporation’s appeal from a September appellate court ruling that rejected Montrose’s preferred “vertical exhaustion” method of exhausting excess-layer policies in favor of a policy-by-policy review to determine which policies are triggered. The California high court’s grant of Montrose’s petition for review is potentially significant in clarifying the appropriate excess policy exhaustion trigger under California law, not to mention in addressing a significant insurer defense in Montrose’s longstanding coverage dispute over environmental insurance coverage, which has been winding its way through California courts for more than 25 years.
A New York trial court held last week in American Home Assurance Co. v. The Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., Index No. 651096/2012 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Nov. 29, 2017) (Bransten, J.) that an insurance policy issued in 1966, to insure the construction of the World Trade Center, continues to provide insurance coverage over modern-day asbestos claims, with each claim constituting an individual occurrence.