One of the threshold issues in COVID-19 insurance coverage cases that have been brought across the country is whether the policyholder’s allegations meet the applicable pleading standard in alleging that the virus caused physical loss or damage. In many cases, the courts have gotten it wrong, effectively holding policyholders to a higher standard than required. But recently, a California federal judge righted those wrongs by acknowledging the correct pleading standard in that case, which is whether the allegations state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The Court, here, correctly recognized that the policyholder, the Los Angeles Lakers, met that pleading standard when it alleged that the COVID-19 virus can cause physical loss or damage by physically altering property.
Continue Reading California Court Forces Insurer to Play Ball in COVID-19 Insurance Coverage Suit

As reported on this blog, policyholders have long been of the view that the presence of substances like COVID-19 and its causative virus  SARS-CoV-2, which render property dangerous or unfit for normal business operations, should be sufficient to trigger coverage under commercial all-risk insurance, as has been the case for more than 60 years.

However, many courts, federal courts in particular, despite decades of pro-policyholder precedent, have embraced the view that “viruses harm people, not [property].”  Thirty-one months after the start of the pandemic, the first state high court has gone in a different direction, according greater weight to pro-policyholder precedent.

Continue Reading Vermont Supreme Court Finds COVID-19 May Damage Property

It has taken a pandemic, but the fallacy of Couch’s “physical alteration” standard, accepted blindly by myriad courts nationwide in COVID-19 insurance disputes and beyond, has been revealed in an article co-authored by Hunton insurance partner, Lorie Masters, with substantial assistance from Hunton insurance associate, Rachel Hudgins. The article, which received final publication in the American Bar Association’s TIPS Law Journal on October 26, 2021, makes a critical analysis of the landscape of judicial authority that existed when 10 Couch on Ins. § 148:46 (3d ed. 1998), the edition of Couch in which the standard first appeared, was published in the late 1990s. The article then traces the evolution of that landscape through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when courts nationwide (predominantly federal courts), seized upon Couch’s standard as though it were a constitutional mandate. But as the article reveals, the standard is flawed, and thus the decisions that rely on it, infirm.
Continue Reading Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP Insurance Partner Lorelie Masters Co-authors Article Revealing “Widely Held” “Physical Alteration” Fallacy

Court dockets, both in the state and federal court systems, have seen a massive influx of COVID-19 business interruption insurance cases since the pandemic began in March of 2020.  More recently, cases have been moving more expeditiously through the federal courts, and the circuit courts are starting to issue decisions. Most recently, the Ninth Circuit has spoken and its decisions provide important guidance for policyholders with pending COVID-19 coverage cases in California federal courts.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Decisions Reject Coverage for COVID Orders, Leaving Door Open for Cases Presenting Damage Claims

On Tuesday, a New Hampshire trial court awarded summary judgment to the owner of scores of hotels after finding that the hotels sustained covered “physical loss of or damage to” insured property caused by the pandemic presence of COVID-19 and its viral agent, SARS-CoV-2. The merits ruling is yet another recent victory for policyholders who continue to make headway against an early wave of insurance company dismissals, most of which, unlike the ruling on Tuesday, never considered evidence in support of their decisions.
Continue Reading New Hampshire Court Finds Hoteliers Sustained Covered COVID-19 BI Loss

New Jersey’s highest court heard arguments Monday in the appeal of a ruling that the New Jersey Transit Corp.’s (“NJ Transit”) insurers are required to insure $400 million of water damage loss caused by Hurricane Sandy.

The matter stems from an insurance claim NJ Transit made after the super storm rocked the East Coast in 2012. NJ Transit claimed over $400 million in losses as a result of damage to its tracks, bridges, tunnels and power stations. In response, its tower of property insurers took the position that a $100 million flood sublimit applied to limit NJ Transit’s recovery under its insurance tower, not the policy’s $400 million overall limits.
Continue Reading New Jersey Supreme Court Hears Insurers’ Bid to Overturn a $400M Decision

In a resounding victory for policyholders, a North Carolina court ruled that “all-risk” property insurance policies cover the business-interruption losses suffered by 16 restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.  North State Deli, LLC v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., No. 20-CVS-02569 (N.C. Sup. Ct., Cty. of Durham, Oct. 7, 2020).  This is the first judgment in the country to find that policyholders are, in fact, entitled to coverage for losses of business income resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Equally important, the decision illustrates that a proper analysis of the operative policy provisions requires this result.

Continue Reading First Judgment Upholding Coverage for COVID-19 Business-Interruption Losses

As we reported in a prior blog, on August 14, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation rejected plaintiffs’ request for a consolidation of all COVID-19 insurance coverage federal litigation, agreeing to consider mini-MDLs as respects five specific insurers, which accounted for roughly one-third of the federal cases. On October 2, the Panel rejected the

Earlier this year, lawyers for plaintiffs applied to the MDL Panel for consolidation of all COVID-19 business interruption cases in federal courts throughout the country.  On August 12, the Panel rejected plaintiffs’ requests for a single consolidation but requested briefing on the possibility of mini-MDLS as respects five of the insurers that accounted for approximately one third of these cases: Lloyds (26 actions), Cincinnati (70 actions), Hartford (130 actions), Society Insurance (24 actions) and Travelers (45 actions).  On Thursday, September 24, the Panel held a nearly three-hour hearing.

Continue Reading MDL Panel Considers Mini-MDLs For COVID-19 Insurance Cases