A Florida district court recently held that an insurer wrongfully refused to defend a Miami-based strip club in a lawsuit filed by 17 models claiming that the club used their images to promote its business without their authorization. The insurer was required to defend the club for allegations of defamation under the policy’s personal and advertising coverage even though 16 of the 17 plaintiffs’ claims alleged conduct outside the covered policy period and no plaintiffs brought a cause of action for “defamation.” The decision highlights the broad duty to defend, in Florida and elsewhere, that policyholders should emphasize when pursuing coverage.

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California’s highest court held yesterday in Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co., that the state’s insurance notice-prejudice rule is a “fundamental public policy” for the purpose of choice of law analyses. This unanimous ruling, issued in response to certified questions from the Ninth Circuit, confirms and emphasizes California’s common law rule that policyholders

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.

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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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This week, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement on Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) addressing the legality, fairness, and risks associated with those offerings. Although the agency’s bulletin was one of many recent public statements by federal agencies on ICOs and cryptocurrencies generally, this new warning highlights additional issues and concerns with the ICO phenomenon that are particularly relevant to insurance coverage.

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Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court agreed to review Montrose Chemical Corporation’s appeal from a September appellate court ruling that rejected Montrose’s preferred “vertical exhaustion” method of exhausting excess-layer policies in favor of a policy-by-policy review to determine which policies are triggered. The California high court’s grant of Montrose’s petition for review is potentially significant in clarifying the appropriate excess policy exhaustion trigger under California law, not to mention in addressing a significant insurer defense in Montrose’s longstanding coverage dispute over environmental insurance coverage, which has been winding its way through California courts for more than 25 years.

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The Fifth Circuit recently upheld the dismissal on summary judgment of a policyholder’s claim under a commercial crime insurance policy, affirming the trial court’s narrow interpretation of the terms “owned” and “loss,” concluding that the policyholder did not “own” the funds at issue or suffer a “loss” when it loaned those funds to the fraudsters. In so holding, the court ignored state court precedent concerning construction of those same terms.

In Cooper Industries, Ltd. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., No. 16-20539 (5th Cir. Nov. 20, 2017), Cooper invested its pension-plan assets into what proved to be a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Over the course of many years, Cooper invested more than $175 million into various equity and bond investments managed by fraudsters who used the investment funds in furtherance of the Ponzi scheme. After discovering the fraud, Cooper recouped a large portion of its investment and sought coverage from its commercial crime insurer for the unrecovered $35 million. The policy limited coverage to “loss” of property that Cooper “owned.” Neither term was defined in the policy.
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Last week, Golden Bear Insurance Company became the first admitted insurer approved by the California Department of Insurance to provide insurance coverage for marijuana companies. Golden Bear will now begin offering first- and third-party insurance coverage specifically targeting marijuana companies in the state.

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In a recent Client Alert, Hunton & Williams insurance attorneys Lorelie Masters, Michael Levine, and Geoffrey Fehling discuss the importance of reviewing historical liability insurance policies and the potential benefit these policies can have on minimizing exposure to environmental hazards. In Cooper Industries, LLC v. Employers Insurance of Wausau, et al., No. L-9284-11 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Oct. 16, 2017), a New Jersey trial court held that an electrical products manufacturer was entitled to coverage rights under commercial general liability policies issued to a predecessor company for environmental remediation costs stemming from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleanup of a 17-mile stretch of the Passaic River in New Jersey.

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