In a March 6, 2019 article appearing in Law360, Hunton insurance team partner, Syed Ahmad, commented on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent reinforcement of a general liability insurer’s broad duty to defend in West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ixthus Med. Supply, Inc. In the article, Ahmad noted that “the ruling puts some real teeth into the broad duty to defend standard.” A deeper analysis of the decision is discussed in our March 8, 2019 blog post, in which we analyze the court’s reasoning behind its refusal to allow the insurer to escape its duty to defend by relying on the knowing violation and criminal acts
In a March 13, 2019 article appearing in Law360, Hunton Insurance team head, Walter Andrews, explains the adverse impact of a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that attempts to clarify the rules governing settlement of insured liability claims under Georgia law. As Walter explains, however, the decision stands to hinder settlements and potentially subject innocent insureds to staggering liability beyond that covered by their insurance. In First Acceptance Ins. Co. of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that policyholders must make a “valid offer” – that is, one that contains definite time limits and other terms – before an insurance company is required to settle. As Walter told Law360, the court took “an overly narrow approach” that is “disturbing and is likely to act as a deterrent to settlements in the future.” He goes on to explain that insurance companies will actually have less incentive to settle, “which means that fewer cases will settle and cases will linger longer in court, which is not in the interests of either the injured parties or the insured defendants.”
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled this week that First Acceptance Insurance Co. need not pay a $5.3 million excess judgment against its insured, Ronald Jackson. First Acceptance Ins. Co. of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes, No. S18G0517, 2019 WL 1103831 (Ga. Mar. 11, 2019), even though Jackson’s insurer could have settled the claim for Jackson’s $50,000 policy limits.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court held last week in West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ixthus Med. Supply, Inc., that West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. (“West Bend”) could not escape its duty to defend by relying on the knowing violation and criminal acts exclusions in a commercial general liability policy issued to Ixthus Medical Supply, Inc. (“Ixthus”). The court required the insurer to defend notwithstanding underlying allegations that Ixthus acted wrongfully and knowingly in defrauding Abbott Laboratories (“Abbott”).
In January we wrote about Rosen Millennium Inc.’s (“Millennium”) appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, whereby Millennium took the position that a Florida federal court ignored well established Florida insurance law when it ruled that St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. had no duty to defend it against a multimillion dollar claim arising out of a 2016 cybersecurity breach.
In an article appearing in Electric Light & Power, Hunton insurance recovery lawyers, Lawrence Bracken, Sergio Oehninger and Alexander Russo discuss the insurability of losses resulting from the recent wildfires in California. Many affected by the tragedy have tried to shift responsibility to utility and power companies, which also may face subrogation claims from insurers that paid property and business owners for first-party losses. In addition, liability insurance programs may help defray costs imposed upon those believed to be at fault, including costs resulting from shareholder and investor suits, regulatory and governmental investigations, fines and penalties, and future legal settlements.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court held last week in Steadfast Ins. Co. v. Greenwich Ins. Co. that two insurers must contribute proportionally to the defense of an additional insured under their comprehensive liability policies.
The Texas Supreme Court has reversed a lower appellate court decision and found that insurers of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. cannot use their own policy wording to avoid coverage for more than $100 million of Anadarko’s defense costs stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Law360 interviewed Hunton’s Sergio F. Oehninger about the substantial impact the decision will have for policyholders in Texas and elsewhere. Oehninger explained how the decision corrects fundamental errors by the lower court in the construction of insurance policies and how it illustrates the proper way to construe words chosen by the insurer that operate to limit or preclude coverage. In the Anadarko matter, the London market policy contained a “joint venture” provision that capped joint venture liabilities at $37.5 million. The insures applied the cap after paying that amount to Anadarko. The Texas Supreme Court rejected the insurers’ argument and the decision of the court below, finding that the joint venture provision applies only to “liabilities” – that is, amounts Anadarko becomes legally obligated to pay to a third party. Defense costs, in contrast, are not amounts paid to a third party and, thus, are not “liabilities” within the context of the joint venture provision. The Court also drew on other policy provisions to support the distinction, including provisions that specifically refer separately to “liabilities” and “defense expenses.” “The Texas Supreme Court’s reversal of the appellate panel’s ruling serves as a clear pronouncement of both insurance policy construction rules and proper appellate review in Texas,” Oehninger said. “In this regard, the Supreme Court’s opinion serves to ‘right the ship’ and bring Texas case law back in line with precedent.”
Reversing a Texas Court of Appeals decision that allowed Anadarko’s Lloyd’s of London excess insurers to escape coverage for more than $100 million in defense costs incurred in connection with claims from the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, the Supreme Court of Texas held that the insurers’ obligations to pay defense costs under an “energy package” liability policy are not capped by a joint venture coverage limit for “liability” insured. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Houston Casualty Co. et al., No. 16-1013 (Tex. Jan. 25, 2019).
Rosen Millennium Inc. (“Millennium”), the cyber security and IT support subsidiary of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, Inc., has appealed to the Eleventh Circuit contending that a Florida federal court ignored Florida insurance law when it ruled that Travelers Insurance Company has no duty to defend it against a multimillion dollar claim arising out of a cybersecurity breach.