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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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 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.

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Hunton Insurance Coverage attorneys Syed Ahmad and Geoff Fehling contributed to the firm’s Recall Roundup, a monthly publication canvassing consumer product and retail recalls and related litigation.  In the October issue, Ahmad and Fehling discuss two recent decisions with potentially broad implications.  In Lake Country Foods, Inc. v. Houston Casualty Co., No. 18-CV-734 (E.D. Wis. filed May 11, 2018), nutritional supplement manufacturer Lake Country Foods, Inc., (“LCF”) filed an insurance coverage complaint seeking to enforce its rights under a product contamination policy issued by Houston Casualty Company (“HCC”) arising from a salmonella contamination incident.  In the October Recall Roundup, Ahmad and Fehling discuss the potential impact that the insurer’s counterclaims seeking reimbursement of the approximately $1.2 million advance payment it made in response to the alleged salmonella contamination incident might have on the pending insurance recovery dispute.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently construed the undefined term “advertising idea” in a case of first impression in the Commonwealth, holding that a footwear company’s insurers must provide a defense against an underlying claim alleging unfair use of a former Olympian’s name to promote a line of running shoes.

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The California Department of Insurance recently approved three new insurance carriers to provide coverage for the emerging cannabis industry. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced last week that The North River Insurance Company, United States Fire Insurance Company, and White Pine Insurance Company will all begin offering surety bonds for cannabis businesses by the end of the month.

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Darshan Karboj described a grisly scene during an October 2016 wedding. She alleges that, during the festivities, a photography drone operated by wedding photographers of Hollycal Production Inc. hit her in the head, causing major injuries, including the loss of an eye. Even though it had some insurance, Hollycal might be on the hook for the bills from this unfortunate incident.

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An Iowa federal court recently ruled that an insurer must pay its policyholder’s defense costs from the date of installation of the allegedly faulty product, even though the underlying suits failed to allege when damage purportedly occurred. The ruling opens the door under each of the policyholder’s successive liability policies from 2000 to 2008, allowing the policyholder to recover millions of dollars in defense costs.

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