As previously reported on the Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives Blog, workers’ compensation provides the exclusive remedy for injuries and illness that employees suffer arising out of and within the course of their employment.   Workers’ compensation provides the exclusive remedy for injuries and illness that employees suffer arising out of and within the course of their employment.  In the early stages of this pandemic, work-related travel to high impact countries or work-related exposure in a case that was being tracked by public health authorities provided support for work-related exposure.  In healthcare settings, work-related exposure will likely be established when exposure to infected patients occurs.  But in other settings and as the diseases spreads in the United States, the analysis about whether an illness is covered by workers’ compensation will be more difficult.

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On February 13, 2020, a Texas federal court granted summary judgment in favor of coverage, finding the policyholder provided sufficient notice to its insurer of a potential claim for damages caused by allegedly contaminated proppant used at a well site in west Texas.  See Evanston Insurance Company v. OPF Enterprises, LLC, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-2048 (S.D.T.X. Feb. 13, 2020) (Dkt. No. 51) .  The Court found that the policyholder’s notice of a potential claim was effective when provided to the insurer’s agent, even though it was not provided directly to the insurer itself.

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Claims stemming from the manufacture, sale, distribution and prescription of opioid products continue to proliferate, fueling opioid liability as an historic mass tort.  Claims asserted in lawsuits brought by state and local governments include allegations of negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of consumer protection statutes, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, antitrust violations, and claims for medical monitoring and injunctive relief, among others.  In December 2017, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the consolidation of approximately 200 then pending opioid related cases into a multidistrict litigation before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, styled In Re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation (MDL No. 2804) (the “MDL”). It was recently reported that two pharmacy chains involved in the opioid MDL are suing 500 physicians alleging it is the doctors, not the pharmacists, who are to blame for faulty prescriptions.  At the end of last week, the judge handling the MDL allowed claims against opioid companies by union benefit plans to proceed, concluding that the plans’ claims of harm differed from the injuries to health and safety suffered by the public at large.

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A Michigan federal court held recently in Great American Fidelity Ins. Co. v. Stout Risius Ross, Inc., et al., 2020 WL 601784, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 7, 2020), that an insurer must defend an investment advisor against lawsuits alleging that it fraudulently overvalued the stock of a company destined for bankruptcy.  The court determined that the insurer failed to show that an exclusion barring coverage for claims arising out of ERISA and other securities laws violations was broad enough to bar coverage for accompanying common law claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

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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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The Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sanders v. Illinois Union Insurance Co., 2019 IL 124565 (2019), announced the standard for triggering general liability coverage for malicious prosecution claims under Illinois law.  In its decision, the court construed what appears to be a policy ambiguity against the policyholder in spite of the longstanding rule of contra proferentem, limiting coverage to policies in place at the time of the wrongful prosecution, and not the policies in effect when the final element of the tort of malicious prosecution occurred (i.e. the exoneration of the plaintiff).  The net result of the court’s ruling for policyholders susceptible to such claims is that coverage for jury verdicts for malicious prosecution – awarded in today’s dollars – is limited to the coverage procured at the time of the wrongful prosecution, which may (as in this case) be decades old.  Such a scenario can have costly consequences for policyholders given that the limits procured decades ago are often inadequate due to the ever-increasing awards by juries as well as inflation.  Moreover, it may be difficult to locate the legacy policies and the insurers that issued such policies may no longer be solvent or even exist.  A copy of the decision can be found here.


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On November 12, 2019, a federal court in Kentucky held that a vendor service agreement (VSA) between Live Nation Worldwide Inc. and its security vendor, ESG Security, extended coverage under an insurance policy issued by Secura Insurance to ESG, for Live Nation’s liability arising from a concert at a Live Nation facility.

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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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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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