Lawrence J. Bracken II

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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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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On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit found that Lloyd’s syndicates may not subrogate against an additional insured and may not force that additional insured to arbitration. Lloyd’s Syndicate 457 v. FloaTEC, LLC, No. 17-20550 (5th Cir. Apr. 17, 2019).

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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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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 an article appearing in Electric Light & Power, Hunton insurance recovery lawyers, Lawrence Bracken, Sergio Oehninger and Alexander Russo discuss the insurability of losses resulting from the recent wildfires in California.  Many affected by the tragedy have tried to shift responsibility to utility and power companies, which also may face subrogation claims from

An Alabama state court recently ruled that Protective Life Insurance wrongly denied California-based Apex Parks Group’s claim for unpaid key person death benefits. Apex, an amusement park company, insured its founder and CEO Alexander “Al” Weber Jr., who died unexpectedly in November 2016 while on vacation.  Eight months earlier, Apex purchased “key person” insurance coverage from Protective.  According to the complaint, Protective’s medical examiner had received Mr. Weber’s medical history prior to issuing the policy.

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A District Court Judge for the District of Massachusetts recently ruled that Ace Property and Casualty Insurance Co. breached its duty to defend its insured in a lawsuit brought by Plaistow Project, LLC, after a family owned laundromat leaked chemicals onto Plaistow Project’s property. Plaistow Project, LLC v. ACE Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 16-CV-11385-IT, 2018 WL 4357480, (D. Mass. Sept. 13, 2018). Plaistow Project sued State Line Laundry Services in state court, and ACE denied coverage under the pollution exclusion in State Line Laundry’s insurance policy. Plaistow Project then settled with State Line Laundry. Under the settlement terms, Plaistow Project was assigned State Line Laundry’s rights against ACE.

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On May 10, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Northern District of Georgia decision barring coverage for a loss claimed to arise under a “Computer Fraud” policy issued by Great American Insurance Company to Interactive Communications International, Inc. and HI Technology Corp. Interactive Commc’ns Int’l, Inc. v. Great Am. Ins. Co., No. 17-11712, 2018 WL 2149769 (11th Cir. May 10, 2018).  InComm sells “chits,” each of which has a specific monetary value to consumers who can redeem them by transferring that value to their debit card.  To redeem a chit, a consumer dials a specific 1-800 number and goes through a computerized interactive voice system.  InComm lost $11.4 million when fraudsters manipulated a glitch in the system by placing multiple calls at the same time.  This allowed consumers to redeem chits more than once.  InComm sought coverage for these losses under its “Computer Fraud” policy.

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Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP insurance recovery partners, Lorelie Masters and Lawrence J. Bracken II, received rankings in the 2018 Chambers and Partners USA attorney rankings.  Lorie received “Band 1” recognition in the Policyholder Insurance category for the District of Columbia and a “Band 2” recognition in the Dispute Resolution: Policyholder Insurance category for the Nationwide regions, while Larry received “Band 4” recognition in the General Commercial Litigation category among Georgia attorneys.  Both designations are the product of the outstanding results Lorie and Larry have achieved in their respective fields, and are indicative of the level of expertise both bring to the insurance recovery practice at Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP.

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