There was nothing ambiguous in former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s ruling in AIG Property Cas. Co. v. Cosby, No. 17-1505 (1st Cir. June 7, 2018), where, sitting by designation, Justice Souter ruled that AIG Property and Casualty Co. (“AIG”) must defend Bill Cosby in suits brought by eight women alleging that Cosby defamed them after they accused him of sexual misconduct. Cosby held two insurance policies issued by AIG: a homeowner’s policy and a personal excess liability policy (the “umbrella policy””). Under each policy, AIG has a duty to “pay damages [Cosby] is legally obligated to pay [due to] personal injury or property damage caused by an occurrence covered by this policy anywhere in the world . . . .” Both policies define “personal injury” to include “[d]efamation” and require AIG to pay the cost of defending against suits seeking covered damages. Both policies also contain so-called “sexual misconduct” exclusions. The homeowner’s policy’s exclusion bars coverage for liability or defense costs “arising out of any actual, alleged[,] or threatened . . . [s]exual molestation, misconduct or harassment[,] . . . or . . . [s]exual, physical or mental abuse.” The umbrella policy contained similar wording. However, that policy also contained another “sexual misconduct” exclusion under the “Limited Charitable Board Directors and Trustees Liability” coverage part. That exclusion applied more broadly to claims for damages “[a]rising out of, or in any way involving, directly or indirectly, any alleged sexual misconduct” (emphasis added).
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 United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held in Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation v. BancInsure, Inc., that an action by the FDIC against a failed bank’s former directors and officers was excluded by a D&O policy’s “insured vs. insured” exclusion. Against the backdrop of recent decisions finding similar exclusions to be ambiguous as to FDIC actions, such as St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Federal Deposit Ins. Corp., No. 14-56830 (9th Cir. Oct. 19, 2016) (previously discussed in this client alert), this decision shows how insurers continue to proactively adjust policy language to fit evolving and new exposures. Policyholders should be doing the same.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled yesterday that a construction company’s builder’s risk policy issued by Assurance Company of America (“Assurance”) applied to cover a fire loss at a home under construction, even though the prospective purchasers of the home were residing in the home at the time of the fire and had already recovered from their homeowner’s policy.