On January 9, 2018, the Northern District of California held that the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance of California owed defense coverage to a pair of Scientology-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers for two lawsuits filed in Georgia and Oklahoma alleging that staff members had provided drugs and alcohol to patients, which resulted in injury and death. In Western World Ins. Co. v. Nonprofits Ins. Alliance of California, No. 14-cv-04466-EJD (N.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2018), the court confirmed the broad scope of an insurer’s duty to defend under California law and rejected the insurer’s attempt to unreasonably expand the application of a “professional services” exclusion to avoid coverage.
A New York trial court held last week in American Home Assurance Co. v. The Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., Index No. 651096/2012 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Nov. 29, 2017) (Bransten, J.) that an insurance policy issued in 1966, to insure the construction of the World Trade Center, continues to provide insurance coverage over modern-day asbestos claims, with each claim constituting an individual occurrence.
In Centurion Med. Liab. Protective Risk Retention Grp., Inc. v. Gonzalez, No. CV 17-01581 RGK (JCx), 2017 BL 392431 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 1, 2017), Centurion Medical Liability Protective Risk Retention Group sought a declaration that it owed no duty to defend a lawsuit alleging that its insureds—a group of medical practitioners—committed professional negligence during the delivery of a newborn child. Centurion argued that it had no defense obligation because its insureds did not notify Centurion of the lawsuit within 20 days after it was filed, as required under the policy.
In the linked Client Alert, my colleagues, Lorie Masters and Brittany Davidson, discuss the recent New Jersey appellate court decision in Haskell Prop., LLC v. Am. Ins. Co., No. A-1452-14T2 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. June 29, 2017), where the court again confirmed that, in “occurrence” policies, an insured can assign its policies after a loss even if the policy has an anti-assignment provision.
Commercial general liability policies typically provide coverage to insureds for losses resulting from property damage caused by an “occurrence,” usually defined in the policy as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same harmful conditions.” In the context of food recalls, however, the exact cause of the food damage, whether contamination, spoilage or something else, may be unknown. This creates uncertainty, and in turn, a coverage dispute, over whether the cause of damage was indeed accidental, and thus a covered “occurrence.” In a recent article for Food Safety Magazine, Syed Ahmad and I analyze three recent cases involving coverage for food industry insureds where the courts found the cause of loss to constitute an “occurrence,” triggering the policy’s coverage. The full article is available here.
In Cypress Point Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. Adria Towers, L.L.C., 076348, 2016 WL 4131662, at *8 (N.J. Aug. 4, 2016), a condominium association sued its general contractor for rainwater damage to the condominium complex, after the project was completed, which was allegedly the result of defective work performed by subcontractors. The condominium association also sued the developer’s CGL insurers, seeking a declaration that claims against the developer were covered by the policies. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurers, finding that there was no “property damage” or “occurrence,” as defined and required by the policies, to trigger coverage. The condominium association appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that “consequential damages caused by the subcontractors’ defective work constitute[d] ‘property damage’ and an ‘occurrence’ under the polic[ies].”
On February 11, 2016, New York’s highest court held in Selective Ins. Co. of Am. v. Cnty. of Rensselaer, 2016 N.Y. Slip Op. 01001 (2016) that, in a class action alleging improper strip searches of arrestees over a four-year period, each improper strip search was a separate occurrence under the policies at issue, mandating a separate deductible per strip search. Significantly, although the issue in this case concerned application of per-occurrence deductibles, the same reasoning would apply if the issue had been over the number of applicable policy limits.
On February 11, 2016, New Jersey’s highest court held that National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, (“National Union”) could refuse coverage for Templo Fuente De Vida Corp. and Fuente Properties Inc.’s settlement with policyholder First Independent Financial Group under a “claims-made” directors and officers policy because First Independent did not provide notice “as soon as practicable.”
The Eleventh Circuit recently ruled, applying Alabama law, that a breach of warranty claim constitutes an “occurrence,” triggering coverage under a general liability insurance policy, and that the policy’s contractual liability exclusion does not bar coverage from any resulting liability. See Pa. Nat’l Mut. Cas. Ins. Co. v. St. Catherine of Siena Parish, No. 14-12151, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 9659 (11th Cir. June 10, 2015). The decision underscores that coverage exclusions must be construed narrowly and in favor of coverage, and that insurers must use precise language when they seek to exclude coverage for a particular type of exposure.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Rules Under Alabama Law that Breach of Warranty Claims Constitute an “Occurrence” and Coverage is not Barred by a General Liability Policy’s Contractual Liability Exclusion