In Dunn, et al. v. Columbia National Insurance Company, No. 2:17-cv-0246 (N.D. Ga.), an insurance company refused to defend an insured in a personal injury claim contending that the insured failed to cooperate in the defense. The underlying claim stemmed from an automobile accident, where an employee of Lawson Air Conditioning and Plumbing, Inc. (“Lawson”), Ronald Patterson, struck members of the Dunn family with a pickup truck owned by Lawson as the family was walking out of a Walmart store. The Dunn family members suffered bodily injury as a proximate result of the accident.  Patterson admitted fault.

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A federal court in Illinois ruled recently, in Cincinnati Insurance Company v. H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Company, that Cincinnati Insurance Company was required to indemnify H.D. Smith for a $3.5 million settlement it reached with the State of West Virginia.  The settlement resolved an action in which West Virginia alleged that H.D. Smith contributed to the state’s opioid addiction epidemic through its negligent distribution of opioid prescription drugs.

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The Third Circuit ruled on Friday that differing “occurrence” definitions can have materially different meanings in the context of whether product defect claims constitute an “occurrence” triggering coverage under general liability insurance policies. The Court held in Sapa Extrusions, Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, that product claims against Sapa may be covered under policies that define an “occurrence” as an accident resulting in bodily injury or property damage “neither expected nor intended from the standpoint of the insured.”  However, the Court affirmed that coverage was not triggered under policies lacking the “expected” or “intended” limitation, reasoning that, under those policies, there was no question that the intentional manufacturing of Sapa’s product was too foreseeable to amount to an “accident.”

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The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently held that Zurich American Insurance Company was obligated to defend Electricity Maine, LLC in a class action lawsuit brought by its customers.  The case stems from alleged misconduct by Electricity Maine that resulted in customers receiving higher bills than were previously represented.  Plaintiffs Jennifer Chon and Katherine Veilleux sought to represent a class of approximately 200,000 customers seeking damages totaling approximately $35 million.  Specifically, the complaint asserted claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, violations under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18. U.S.C. §§ 1962, 1964, and the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

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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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A state-appointed panel advised last week that California should change the standard for determining whether utilities are liable for wildfires.  Under the current system, California’s Public Utilities Code § 2106 provides a private right of action by any person or entity that has suffered loss, damages, or injury caused by prohibited or unlawful acts of a public utility.  Relying on this statute, property owners have asserted wildfire-related claims directly against allegedly culpable electric utility companies.  Public utilities in California also face inverse condemnation claims arising out of wildfires.  Under inverse condemnation, where private property is taken for public use and later damaged by the state or its agency, the state or agency is strictly liable to the property owner.

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A federal court in Pennsylvania has held that Liberty Mutual must defend its insured, Hershey Creamery Company, in an intellectual property infringement lawsuit because the suit raises claims that potentially implicate coverage under the policies’ personal and advertising injury coverages. The court further found that the alleged wrongful conduct was not subject to the policies’ IP infringement exclusion.

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The Scott Fetzer Co. v. Zurich American Insurance Co. matter involved a dispute over coverage for sexual assault claims against Fetzer. Three women filed suit against Fetzer, claiming that John Fields, an independent dealer of vacuums manufactured by Fetzer, verbally and sexually assaulted them. Fetzer’s alleged liability was premised on, among other things, its negligence in supervising its independent contractor’s hiring process. Fetzer settled with each of the three women.

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Upper Deck Co. has sued its general liability insurer, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., in California federal court last week, alleging that Liberty Mutual failed to satisfy its defense obligations in an antitrust lawsuit brought against Upper Deck by rival trading card maker Leaf Trading Cards LLC. According to the complaint, Liberty Mutual agreed that the allegations in Leaf’s suit triggered coverage under Upper Deck’s policy and acknowledged its duty to defend and Upper Deck’s right to independent counsel. However, Liberty Mutual stopped paying the defense fees of one of the firms Upper Deck hired, and also failed to pay the fees of a different firm.

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The Southern District of Georgia recently ruled that Evanston Insurance Company is not entitled to summary judgment on whether its policies’ pollution exclusion bars coverage for the release of nitrogen into a warehouse. The case stems from an incident at Xytex Tissue Services, LLC’s warehouse, where Xytex stored biological material at low temperatures. Xytex used an on-site “liquid nitrogen delivery system” to keep the material properly cooled. This system releases liquid nitrogen, which would vaporize into nitrogen gas and cool the biological material. On February 5, 2017, a Xytex employee, Deputy Greg Meagher, entered the warehouse to investigate activated motion detectors and burglar alarms. Deputy Meagher was overcome by nitrogen gas and died as a result. Following Deputy Meagher’s death, his heirs filed suit against Xytex and other defendants. Evanston denied coverage based on the pollution exclusion in its policy. Evanston then brought a declaratory judgment action to confirm its coverage position.

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