In a victory for policyholders, and an honorable mention for Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the dispersal of concrete dust that damaged inventory stored in an aircraft part distributor’s warehouse was a pollutant, as defined by the policy, but that it also constituted “smoke” as that term was defined in the dictionary, thereby implicating an exception to the policy’s pollution exclusion. The Court then granted summary judgment for the policyholder, who had suffered a $3.2 million loss.
In a victory for policyholders, a recent decision from the Western District of Texas narrowly construed a common breach-of-contract exclusion and held that the insurer had a duty to defend its insured against an underlying lawsuit over construction defects. The allegations potentially supported a covered claim, as the conduct of the insured’s subcontractor could have been an independent, “but for” cause of the property damage at issue, thereby triggering the insurer’s duty to defend.
The California Department of Insurance recently approved three new insurance carriers to provide coverage for the emerging cannabis industry. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced last week that The North River Insurance Company, United States Fire Insurance Company, and White Pine Insurance Company will all begin offering surety bonds for cannabis businesses by the end of the month.
The Supreme Court of California has ruled that a general liability insurer must defend an employer against allegations of employee misconduct, reinforcing the breadth of (1) what constitutes an “occurrence” under an employer’s commercial general liability (CGL) policy and (2) the duty to defend regarding claims for negligent hiring, retention and supervision. The opinion in Liberty Surplus Ins. Corp. v. Ledesma & Meyer Constr. Co., Inc. can be found here.
Darshan Karboj described a grisly scene during an October 2016 wedding. She alleges that, during the festivities, a photography drone operated by wedding photographers of Hollycal Production Inc. hit her in the head, causing major injuries, including the loss of an eye. Even though it had some insurance, Hollycal might be on the hook for the bills from this unfortunate incident.
The California Court of Appeal has affirmed that Lloyd’s of London and other insurers cannot escape coverage for $132.5 million in settlements arising from the 2008 Chatsworth train crash, in which 25 individuals were killed and more than 130 injured. In Those Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. Connex Railroad LLC, No. B276373, 2018 WL 1871278 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Apr. 19, 2018), the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the Los Angeles Superior Court’s ruling, discussed in our November 9, 2015 blog post, that the insurers were obligated to indemnify Connex Railroad for the settlements.
On April 13, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed a trial court decision finding that a bill of sale intended to include the transfer of insurance rights and finding that such transfer did not violate an anti-assignment clause. Cooper Industries, LLC, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Columbia Casualty Company And One Beacon America Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellants, and Employers Insurance Of Wausau, Allstate Insurance Company, Lexington Insurance Company And Westchester Fire Insurance Company, 2018 WL 1770260,(N.J. Super. A.D., 2018). In May 1986, Cooper Industries merged several entities and transferred assets to a “new” McGraw-Edison Company through a bill of sale. Eighteen years later, on November 30, 2004, Cooper Industries merged the new McGraw-Edison company into itself. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that Cooper Industries was responsible for generating and disposing of hazardous substances due to McGraw-Edison’s actions taken years earlier. Cooper Industries sought coverage under the commercial general liability policies McGraw-Edison had in place at the time of the environmental and pollution-related occurrences.
On April 20, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed an Alabama district court decision finding that an “absolute pollution exclusion” did not bar coverage for environmental property damage and injuries from a sewage leak. Evanston Ins. Co. v. J&J Cable Constr., LLC, No. 17-11188, 2018 WL 1887459, (11th Cir. Apr. 20, 2018).
Two recent decisions addressing allocation of long-tail liabilities demonstrate that resolution of the issue under New York law depends upon the policy language at issue. Judge-made rules on “equity” and “fairness” do not control. As the New York Court of Appeals held on March 27, 2018, in Keyspan Gas East Corp. v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., 2018 WL 1472635 (2018), under New York law, “the method of allocation is covered for most by the particular language of the relevant insurance policy.” Both Keyspan and the April 2, 2018 decision in Hopeman Brothers, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Co., No. 16-cv-00187 (E.D. Va. Apr. 2, 2018), by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, illustrate the importance of reviewing insurance policies – both before purchase, to ensure that they contain optimal language for coverage; and after claims arise, to ensure that the policyholder receives the benefit of insurance coverage under “legacy” and all other potentially applicable policies.
In a ruling earlier this month, an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled in Scott, Blane, and Darren Recovery L.L.C., Anova Foods Inc. v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co., No. 17-12945-E, 2018 WL 1611256 (11th Cir. 2018), that an insurer did not have a duty to defend and indemnify its insured in a false marketing suit. Anova Food Inc. was sued by its competitor, King Tuna, for allegedly falsely asserting in its advertising that it treated tuna meat with a smoking process using filtered wood chips. King Tuna claimed that, in reality, Anova treated its tuna with synthetic carbon monoxide. In finding that King Tuna’s lawsuit did not trigger Auto-Owner’s duty to defend, the court held (1) that the lawsuit did allege a covered “advertising injury”; (2) that coverage was excluded under the policy’s “failure to conform” exclusion; and (3) coverage was barred by Anova’s untimely notice of the lawsuit.