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).
In Zurich American Insurance Co. v. Don Buchwald & Associates, Inc., 2018 N.Y. Slip. Op. 33325(U) (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County, Dec. 21, 2017), the Supreme Court of New York held that Zurich was obligated to defend a talent and literary agency against claims brought by Hulk Hogan alleging that the agency aided and abetted one of its agents—Tony Burton—in publishing racist and sexual footage of Hulk Hogan online. The decision also gives ammunition to policyholders seeking to recover their fees incurred while litigating against an insurer’s improper denial of coverage. The court found that the insureds had “been cast in a defensive posture” due to the insurer’s claims seeking a declaratory judgment, and that this justified a fee-shifting award.
The Fifth Circuit in Evanston Insurance Co. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co. recently held that multiple collisions caused by the same insured driver over a span of 10 minutes constitute a single occurrence subject to a $1 million limit in the insured’s primary policy with Mid-Continent. The holding reversed a lower court’s ruling that Mid-Continent is liable for an additional sum the excess insurer, Evanston, paid to resolve all of the claims arising from the collisions. At issue, a fundamental question about causation and coverage under commercial liability insurance.
The Ninth Circuit in Teleflex Medical Incorporated v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh PA, No. 14-56366 (9th Cir. Mar. 21, 2017) affirmed a jury verdict finding that AIG must pay $3.75 million in damages plus attorneys’ fees to cover LMA North America, Inc.’s (“LMA’s”) settlement with its competitor over allegedly disparaging advertisements that characterized a competitor’s products as unsafe.
On November 2, 2016, a federal judge in California ruled that a Real Estate Property Managed endorsement in policies issued to a real estate manager negated a standard policy exclusion, but also rendered the policies excess to other available insurance. The case involved a dispute over coverage for a bodily injury claim involving “Pigeon Breeders Disease,” allegedly contracted due to the insured’s failure to keep pigeons away from a condo complex’s rooftop HVAC units. The plaintiff sued the property owners, Jerry and Betty Lee, and the property manager, Sierra Pacific Management Co. Inc. (Sierra Pacific).
The Delaware Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a long-running dispute involving Viking Pump’s and Warren Pumps’ claims for recovery under primary, umbrella, and excess insurance. The Delaware high court had certified two questions to the New York Court of Appeals. The Delaware decision follows the New York high court’s ruling in May that the policies required “all sums” allocation and “vertical” exhaustion” (click here and here for prior posts).
A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the absence of a duty to defend does not foreclose the potential for indemnity coverage under primary and umbrella liability policies. The decision in Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. et al. v. DP Engineering LLC, stems from a March 31, 2013, incident where an industrial crane collapsed at a nuclear generating facility near Russellville, Arkansas, causing significant damage and injuries, including one death.
Hunton & Williams’ insurance practice head, Walter Andrews, was quoted in a Law360 article yesterday regarding the confusion that is likely to result from a federal bankruptcy judge’s decision in Rapid-American Corp. v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., where the court concluded that a majority of excess insurers owe no coverage to Rapid-American Corp. for underlying asbestos claims until the company exhausts the limits of its underlying primary and excess coverage through actual payment, not just accrued liability. According the Andrews, “the public policy clearly cries out against this ruling because you want to encourage settlement and have certainty in terms of a policyholder knowing what it can do with the coverage it has.” However, “[t]his case throws that into confusion and uncertainty,” Andrews added.
Two of three of Rapid-American Corp.’s excess liability insurers do not have to respond to underlying asbestos claims unless and until all underlying coverage is exhausted by the payment of claims, says Judge Bernstein of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in a June 7, 2016 decision. Rapid-American has been involved in asbestos litigation since 1974 and settled disputes with many of its underlying insurers, but an amount sufficient to reach its excess coverage policies has not yet been paid. Rapid-American argued that it was not necessary for the primary policies’ underlying limits to be exhausted by actual payment before insurers’ excess liability coverage attaches.