On January 9, 2018, the Northern District of California held that the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance of California owed defense coverage to a pair of Scientology-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers for two lawsuits filed in Georgia and Oklahoma alleging that staff members had provided drugs and alcohol to patients, which resulted in injury and death. In Western World Ins. Co. v. Nonprofits Ins. Alliance of California, No. 14-cv-04466-EJD (N.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2018), the court confirmed the broad scope of an insurer’s duty to defend under California law and rejected the insurer’s attempt to unreasonably expand the application of a “professional services” exclusion to avoid coverage.
In an article published in Law360, Hunton & Williams LLP partners Walter Andrews, Malcolm Weiss, and I discuss two recent decisions in Tree Top Inc. v. Starr Indem. & Liab. Co., No. 1:15-CV-03155-SMJ, 2017 WL 5664718 (E.D. Wash. Nov. 21, 2017). There, the Eastern District of Washington rejected an insurer’s attempt to escape insurance coverage for a Proposition 65 lawsuit filed against juice-maker Tree Top Inc.
Continue Reading “3 Takeaways Squeezed Out of Juicer’s Insurance Battle” – Hunton Attorneys Discuss Insurance Coverage for Prop. 65 Claims and Key Takeaways from Recent Set of Washington District Court Rulings.
In an article appearing in Law360, Hunton & Williams LLP’s insurance coverage practice group head, Walter Andrews, weighs in on the Florida Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Altman Contractors, Inc. v. Crum and Forster Specialty Insurance Co. As I discussed in my previous blog post on the Altman Contractors case, available here, the Florida Supreme Court held that a Chapter 558 notice of construction defect constitutes a “alternative dispute resolution proceeding” under the definition of “suit” in a commercial general liability (“CGL”) policy so as to possibly trigger the insurer’s duty to defend. There, the policy defined “suit” as including “[a]ny other alternative dispute resolution proceeding in which such damages are claimed and to which the insured submits with our consent.”
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court held that a Chapter 558 notice of construction defect constitutes a “suit” under a commercial general liability (“CGL”) policy sufficient to trigger the insurer’s duty to defend. The opinion can be found here, and our prior blog posts on this case here and here.
In 2015 and 2016, we discussed certain provisions of the then drafts of the Restatement of the Law, Liability insurance, including the Duty to Cooperate, here, and Duty to Defend, here and here. In late May 2017, the American Law Institute met to approve the Proposed Final Draft—the culmination of over seven years of work on this project. Not surprisingly, many of the issues discussed in the Restatement have been hotly contested by insurers. While in many instances, the reporters simply opted for the majority rule, in a few instances, the Restatement may seek to move the law on key issues to align the law and the incentives underlying insurance and claims-handling. In a recent article for Risk Management Magazine, Lorie Masters, Syed Ahmad, and I address some of the most hotly debated sections of the proposed Restatement, including: policy interpretation principles, such as when a term is deemed ambiguous; the standard for determining the insurer’s duty to defend; the insurer’s duty to make reasonable settlement decisions; and the allocation of liability in long-tail environmental claims. The article can be found here. We will also be speaking at the upcoming Florida RIMS Conference in Naples, Florida on this subject on July 28th. Please see the Florida RIMS website for more information on that conference.
The vote on the final draft has been pushed to the American Law Institute’s next annual meeting in May 2018. In the meantime, policyholders may consider submitting comments on sections of interest and can look to the current Proposed Final Draft as guidance on what the law may be should they encounter a coverage dispute with their liability insurer.
Commercial general liability policies typically provide coverage to insureds for losses resulting from property damage caused by an “occurrence,” usually defined in the policy as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same harmful conditions.” In the context of food recalls, however, the exact cause of the food damage, whether contamination, spoilage or something else, may be unknown. This creates uncertainty, and in turn, a coverage dispute, over whether the cause of damage was indeed accidental, and thus a covered “occurrence.” In a recent article for Food Safety Magazine, Syed Ahmad and I analyze three recent cases involving coverage for food industry insureds where the courts found the cause of loss to constitute an “occurrence,” triggering the policy’s coverage. The full article is available here.
The Eleventh Circuit recently held in G.M. Sign, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., that, by denying coverage for a lawsuit filed against its insured, St. Paul waived the policy’s notice requirements, thus obviating the need for the policyholder to provide notice of a second similar lawsuit arising out of the same acts and asserting the same claims. The policyholder, MFG.com, was sued in a class action filed in November 2008 by GM Sign, Inc., which alleged that MFG.com had sent numerous unsolicited faxes in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), among other things. After St. Paul denied coverage, MFG.com and GM Sign stipulated to the dismissal of the first lawsuit without prejudice in July 2009. The next day, GM Sign filed a new class action complaint against MFG.com alleging the same claims on behalf of the same class of plaintiffs as the first suit. MFG.com did not tender the second suit to St. Paul. As part of the $22.5 million settlement of the second suit, GM Sign took an assignment of MFG.com’s right to payment from St. Paul and filed suit to recover insurance proceeds and for bad faith. St. Paul responded, contending that MFG.com breached the policy’s notice provision by failing to provide notice of the second lawsuit.
A California appellate court held on Tuesday in Navigators Specialty Ins. Co. v. Moorefield Constr., Inc., 2016 WL 7439032, __ Cal.Rptr.3d __ (Dec. 27, 2016), that a general liability insurer must cover amounts paid as attorneys’ fees in an underlying settlement even where no duty to indemnify was owed under the policies. The coverage was required under the policies’ Supplementary Payments provision – an often overlooked and underutilized section of the CGL policy that can be of significant value to policyholders.
The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently found an excess insurer liable for environmental costs related to a leak in an insured’s pipeline. In doing so, the court rejected the insurer’s argument that liability for the costs should be spread among policies issued by other insurers spanning nearly three decades. The opinion is available here.
In Cypress Point Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. Adria Towers, L.L.C., 076348, 2016 WL 4131662, at *8 (N.J. Aug. 4, 2016), a condominium association sued its general contractor for rainwater damage to the condominium complex, after the project was completed, which was allegedly the result of defective work performed by subcontractors. The condominium association also sued the developer’s CGL insurers, seeking a declaration that claims against the developer were covered by the policies. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurers, finding that there was no “property damage” or “occurrence,” as defined and required by the policies, to trigger coverage. The condominium association appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that “consequential damages caused by the subcontractors’ defective work constitute[d] ‘property damage’ and an ‘occurrence’ under the polic[ies].”