The Texas Supreme Court has reversed a lower appellate court decision and found that insurers of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. cannot use their own policy wording to avoid coverage for more than $100 million of Anadarko’s defense costs stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Law360 interviewed Hunton’s Sergio F. Oehninger about the substantial impact the decision will have for policyholders in Texas and elsewhere. Oehninger explained how the decision corrects fundamental errors by the lower court in the construction of insurance policies and how it illustrates the proper way to construe words chosen by the insurer that operate to limit or preclude coverage. In the Anadarko matter, the London market policy contained a “joint venture” provision that capped joint venture liabilities at $37.5 million. The insures applied the cap after paying that amount to Anadarko. The Texas Supreme Court rejected the insurers’ argument and the decision of the court below, finding that the joint venture provision applies only to “liabilities” – that is, amounts Anadarko becomes legally obligated to pay to a third party. Defense costs, in contrast, are not amounts paid to a third party and, thus, are not “liabilities” within the context of the joint venture provision. The Court also drew on other policy provisions to support the distinction, including provisions that specifically refer separately to “liabilities” and “defense expenses.” “The Texas Supreme Court’s reversal of the appellate panel’s ruling serves as a clear pronouncement of both insurance policy construction rules and proper appellate review in Texas,” Oehninger said. “In this regard, the Supreme Court’s opinion serves to ‘right the ship’ and bring Texas case law back in line with precedent.”
Reversing a Texas Court of Appeals decision that allowed Anadarko’s Lloyd’s of London excess insurers to escape coverage for more than $100 million in defense costs incurred in connection with claims from the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, the Supreme Court of Texas held that the insurers’ obligations to pay defense costs under an “energy package” liability policy are not capped by a joint venture coverage limit for “liability” insured. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Houston Casualty Co. et al., No. 16-1013 (Tex. Jan. 25, 2019).
Policyholders facing any type of products liability scored a win in a recent decision from the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The court found that an insurance company must defend its insured against claims arising out of a recall while simultaneously funding the insured’s affirmative claims for recovery.
A Georgia Court of Appeals judge recently ruled that Scapa Dryer Fabrics was entitled to $17.4 million worth of primary coverage from National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA for claims of injurious exposure to Scapa’s asbestos-containing dryer felts. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA v. Scapa Dryer Fabrics, Inc., No. A18A1173, 2018 WL 5306693, at *1 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2018). Scapa sought coverage under five National Union policies issued from 1983–1987. The 1983, 1984 and 1985 National Union policies had limits of $1 million per occurrence and $1 million in the aggregate. The liability limits for the 1986 and 1987 renewal policies were amended by endorsement to $7.2 million. Scapa sought to recover the full $17.4 million from all five policies. National Union argued that a “Non-Cumulative Limits of Liability Endorsement” in the 1986 and 1987 policies limited Scapa’s recovery to only $7.2 million. Scapa sued National Union and its sister company, New Hampshire Insurance Company (from which Scapa purchased excess liability coverage), in Georgia state court.
The Northern District of Illinois in Astellas US Holding, Inc. v. Starr Indemnity and Liability Co., 2018 WL 2431969, at *1 (N.D. Ill. May 30, 2018) held that a U.S. Department of Justice subpoena demanding documents relating to a government investigation constitutes a “Claim.”
Corporate policyholders should carefully consider insurance coverage implications when structuring mergers, acquisitions, or other transactions that may impact available insurance assets. A New Jersey federal court recently granted summary judgment for a surviving bank asserting coverage rights under a D&O policy issued to an entity that dissolved in a statutory merger, based in part on the wording of the parties’ merger agreement structuring the transaction in accordance with the New Jersey Business Corporation Act (“NJBCA”).
Does the term “wrongful act” always require that the conduct at issue be “wrongful”? In at least one D&O insurance policy, the answer may not be as clear as it seems. A federal district court in Texas recently denied an insurer’s motion to dismiss a company’s coverage claim for nearly $5 million in costs the company incurred defending a statutory appraisal lawsuit filed by disgruntled shareholders, citing the D&O policy’s “terribly” written definition of “wrongful act,” which may have been written so broadly that it provides coverage for “acts” that are not actually “wrongful.”
The frequency and magnitude of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA) (15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1, et seq.) investigations and claims continue to grow. Last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Halliburton Co. had agreed to pay $29.2 million in fines and penalties to settle allegations that its operations in Angola and Iraq violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal accounting controls provisions. In its press release, Halliburton vowed that it had “continuously enhanced its global ethics and compliance program” since first receiving an anonymous tip in December 2010, but the recent settlement serves as a reminder that even the most robust compliance program cannot guarantee that FCPA violations will not occur.
A Georgia district court recently denied an insurer’s attempt to recoup defense costs, holding that even where the court previously determined that coverage was barred under the policy’s pollution exclusion, the insurer could not “rewrite the record” or clarify its “defective” reservation of rights letters to show that it fairly informed the policyholder of its coverage position, which is a prerequisite to recoupment of defense costs.
My partner, Walter Andrews, recently commented in a Law360 article concerning the top insurance cases to watch in 2017. The Law360 article, titled Insurance Cases to Watch in the 2nd Half of 2017, features Andrews commenting on the impact of Global Reinsurance Corp. of America v. Century Indemnity Co., case number CTQ-2016-00005, in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, where he points out how a win for Global Re could result in a huge windfall for the reinsurer by saving on its defense costs, since reinsurers typically must pay both indemnity and defense costs. Andrews also commented on Continental Insurance Co. et al. v. Honeywell International Inc. et al., case number 078152, in the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey, noting the significant impact that choice of law could play on the outcome of that dispute.