Following a six-day trial, a Texas jury found that Great American Insurance Company breached its policy with a hydraulic fracturing company and engaged in unfair settlement practices when it refused to pay for loss the company sustained in a well accident. The decision highlights the need to vigorously pursue coverage using all information available and the benefits of leveraging state statutory protections governing unfair claims settlement practices to ensure that insurers handle claims in a prompt, fair, and reasonable manner.

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The Georgia Court of Appeals recently affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of Mountain Express Oil Company on its breach of contract claim against liability insurer, Southern Trust Insurance Company.  Empire Petroleum brought claims against Mountain Express for breach of contract, injunctive relief, and libel or slander, among others.  Mountain Express sought a defense to that lawsuit under its insurance policy with Southern Trust.  Southern Trust contended that the insurance policy did not cover Empire’s non-libel/slander claims, and therefore reimbursed Mountain Express for only a portion of its attorneys’ fees. After the Empire lawsuit settled, Mountain Express sued Southern Trust for breach of contract and bad faith for failing to pay the remaining defense costs, contending that Southern Trust had a duty to defend the entire lawsuit.

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In the first part of a 3-part series, the Hunton insurance team discusses how policyholders can plan for this year’s hurricane season. Part 2 will address how to prepare a claim after a loss in order to maximize the potential recovery, including by taking photographs of any damage and tracking curfews that affect your operations.  Part 3 will discuss how to prevent denials of pending claims based on suit limitations periods.  The team’s goal is to provide a comprehensive outline that will guide policyholders before and after a loss.

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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.”

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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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In a huge win for policyholders, a New York appellate court, in D.K. Property, Inc. v National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., held that an insured need not provide a detailed factual description or explanation for why consequential damages are recoverable at the pleading stage.  Rather, an insured’s complaint must only (i) specify the types of consequential damages claimed; and (ii) allege that those damages reasonably were contemplated by the parties prior to contracting.

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As the new year gets under way, cases that will shape the insurance landscape in 2019 continue to proceed.  Among them are First Acceptance Ins. Co. v. Hughes, in which the Georgia Supreme Court will address the prerequisites for a policyholder to sue its insurance carrier for bad faith based on the insurer’s failure to settle the underlying dispute for an amount within the available policy limits.  Hunton Andrews Kurth’s insurance practice head, Walter Andrews, was asked by Insurance Law360 to comment on the significance of that case.  As Andrews explained, the insurer’s position is inconsistent with Georgia law.  “Georgia law does not require some particular form of settlement offer — or even an offer at all — to create an insurer’s duty to settle claims against their insureds.” Rather, as Andrews explained, “that duty arises when the insurer knows or reasonably should know that not settling will create an ‘unreasonable risk’ of the insured suffering a judgment in excess of his or her policy limits, regardless of whether a third-party claimant has first presented a settlement offer. Most often, that should be a jury question and not something that is susceptible to summary judgment.”

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Whether an insurance bad faith claim, joined by amendment to an underlying insurance coverage action, may be removed more than a year after the original action was begun has divided federal judges in the state of Florida but has not yet been considered by the Eleventh Circuit. Now, a new opinion out of the Middle District of Florida (Jacksonville Division) has added to the debate.

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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.

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Kanye West’s touring company, Very Good Touring, Inc. (Very Good), and its insurer, Lloyd’s of London (Lloyd’s), have resolved their dispute over event cancellation coverage for West’s “Life of Pablo” Tour, which experienced canceled shows due to West’s health condition. The settlement resolved all claims and counterclaims.
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