A state-appointed panel advised last week that California should change the standard for determining whether utilities are liable for wildfires.  Under the current system, California’s Public Utilities Code § 2106 provides a private right of action by any person or entity that has suffered loss, damages, or injury caused by prohibited or unlawful acts of a public utility.  Relying on this statute, property owners have asserted wildfire-related claims directly against allegedly culpable electric utility companies.  Public utilities in California also face inverse condemnation claims arising out of wildfires.  Under inverse condemnation, where private property is taken for public use and later damaged by the state or its agency, the state or agency is strictly liable to the property owner.

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Upper Deck Co. has sued its general liability insurer, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., in California federal court last week, alleging that Liberty Mutual failed to satisfy its defense obligations in an antitrust lawsuit brought against Upper Deck by rival trading card maker Leaf Trading Cards LLC. According to the complaint, Liberty Mutual agreed that the allegations in Leaf’s suit triggered coverage under Upper Deck’s policy and acknowledged its duty to defend and Upper Deck’s right to independent counsel. However, Liberty Mutual stopped paying the defense fees of one of the firms Upper Deck hired, and also failed to pay the fees of a different firm.

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On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit found that Lloyd’s syndicates may not subrogate against an additional insured and may not force that additional insured to arbitration. Lloyd’s Syndicate 457 v. FloaTEC, LLC, No. 17-20550 (5th Cir. Apr. 17, 2019).

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The Southern District of Georgia recently ruled that Evanston Insurance Company is not entitled to summary judgment on whether its policies’ pollution exclusion bars coverage for the release of nitrogen into a warehouse. The case stems from an incident at Xytex Tissue Services, LLC’s warehouse, where Xytex stored biological material at low temperatures. Xytex used an on-site “liquid nitrogen delivery system” to keep the material properly cooled. This system releases liquid nitrogen, which would vaporize into nitrogen gas and cool the biological material. On February 5, 2017, a Xytex employee, Deputy Greg Meagher, entered the warehouse to investigate activated motion detectors and burglar alarms. Deputy Meagher was overcome by nitrogen gas and died as a result. Following Deputy Meagher’s death, his heirs filed suit against Xytex and other defendants. Evanston denied coverage based on the pollution exclusion in its policy. Evanston then brought a declaratory judgment action to confirm its coverage position.

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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.

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An Alabama state court recently ruled that Protective Life Insurance wrongly denied California-based Apex Parks Group’s claim for unpaid key person death benefits. Apex, an amusement park company, insured its founder and CEO Alexander “Al” Weber Jr., who died unexpectedly in November 2016 while on vacation.  Eight months earlier, Apex purchased “key person” insurance coverage from Protective.  According to the complaint, Protective’s medical examiner had received Mr. Weber’s medical history prior to issuing the policy.

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A District Court Judge for the District of Massachusetts recently ruled that Ace Property and Casualty Insurance Co. breached its duty to defend its insured in a lawsuit brought by Plaistow Project, LLC, after a family owned laundromat leaked chemicals onto Plaistow Project’s property. Plaistow Project, LLC v. ACE Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 16-CV-11385-IT, 2018 WL 4357480, (D. Mass. Sept. 13, 2018). Plaistow Project sued State Line Laundry Services in state court, and ACE denied coverage under the pollution exclusion in State Line Laundry’s insurance policy. Plaistow Project then settled with State Line Laundry. Under the settlement terms, Plaistow Project was assigned State Line Laundry’s rights against ACE.

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On May 10, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Northern District of Georgia decision barring coverage for a loss claimed to arise under a “Computer Fraud” policy issued by Great American Insurance Company to Interactive Communications International, Inc. and HI Technology Corp. Interactive Commc’ns Int’l, Inc. v. Great Am. Ins. Co., No. 17-11712, 2018 WL 2149769 (11th Cir. May 10, 2018).  InComm sells “chits,” each of which has a specific monetary value to consumers who can redeem them by transferring that value to their debit card.  To redeem a chit, a consumer dials a specific 1-800 number and goes through a computerized interactive voice system.  InComm lost $11.4 million when fraudsters manipulated a glitch in the system by placing multiple calls at the same time.  This allowed consumers to redeem chits more than once.  InComm sought coverage for these losses under its “Computer Fraud” policy.

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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.

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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.

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