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.
A New York district court has held that an insurer must provide coverage under three excess insurance policies issued in 1970 for defense and cleanup costs incurred by Olin Corporation in remediating environmental contamination at seven sites in Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, Illinois, New York, and Washington. Seven of the remaining sites at issue presented questions of fact for trial, with only one site being dismissed due to lack of coverage.
Drug-maker Pfizer and one of its excess insurers, North River, are in the middle of a contentious dispute regarding the proper forum for their coverage dispute over directors and officers liability insurance following both parties’ race to the courthouse to file competing lawsuits in 2015. Pfizer argues that its own preferred forum of Delaware (where Pfizer is incorporated) is correct, while North River counters that New York (where Pfizer’s headquarters and its broker are located) is the proper forum. The dispute, which involves competing motions in Delaware and New York courts, highlights the importance of both the timing and location of forum selection in litigating insurance coverage disputes.
Two recent decisions addressing allocation of long-tail liabilities demonstrate that resolution of the issue under New York law depends upon the policy language at issue. Judge-made rules on “equity” and “fairness” do not control. As the New York Court of Appeals held on March 27, 2018, in Keyspan Gas East Corp. v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., 2018 WL 1472635 (2018), under New York law, “the method of allocation is covered for most by the particular language of the relevant insurance policy.” Both Keyspan and the April 2, 2018 decision in Hopeman Brothers, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Co., No. 16-cv-00187 (E.D. Va. Apr. 2, 2018), by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, illustrate the importance of reviewing insurance policies – both before purchase, to ensure that they contain optimal language for coverage; and after claims arise, to ensure that the policyholder receives the benefit of insurance coverage under “legacy” and all other potentially applicable policies.