• Posts by Geoffrey B. Fehling
    Posts by Geoffrey B. Fehling
    Partner

    Geoff helps corporate policyholders and their directors and officers resolve high-stakes insurance disputes. A Boston-based partner in Hunton’s top-ranked insurance coverage practice, he has recovered hundreds of millions ...

Time 5 Minute Read

Because insurance law is a creature of state law, it is rare for the United States Supreme Court to wade into insurance matters. But as our colleagues explained last fall, the Supreme Court agreed to do just that when it granted certiorari in Truck Insurance v. Kaiser Gypsum, a Fourth Circuit bankruptcy case. On June 6, 2024, the Supreme Court issued an opinion unanimously reversing the Fourth Circuit. In doing so, the Court held that insurers with financial responsibility for bankruptcy claims are “parties in interest” under the United States Bankruptcy Code and, therefore, may appear and be heard, including to object to Chapter 11 reorganization plans. This decision clarifies an important issue and paves the way for potentially greater participation by insurers in the Chapter 11 process.

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We have previewed in prior posts the ways artificial intelligence is rapidly changing the way business operate, including the many ways AI has influenced the insurance market, creating both opportunities and risks for policyholders. We later highlighted, based on a recent securities lawsuit, how corporate management may be at risk for the alleged use or misuse of AI and how companies should evaluate their directors and officers (D&O) and management liability policies to ensure that they are prepared to respond to and mitigate AI-driven risks, including claims alleging that a company or its officers and directors made misrepresentations about AI.

Time 5 Minute Read

As we explained in our introductory post, rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) present multifaceted risks for businesses of all types. The magnitude, fluidity and specificity of these risks underscore why businesses should continually audit their own unique AI risks profiles to best understand and respond to the hazards posed by AI.

Time 7 Minute Read

A federal court recently ruled that a carrier must defend its policyholder against a claim involving the treasurer’s erroneous payment to a scammer. The ruling shows that a “wrongful act” under a D&O policy need not be an egregious act of wrongdoing, that coverage may hinge on whether extrinsic evidence can establish coverage, and that breach of contract claims are not always uninsurable as a matter of law.

Time 5 Minute Read

No policyholder wants to hear the word “rescission” in the context of an insurance claim. The reality, however, is that when policyholders complete applications for insurance, they are typically focused on obtaining the best policy terms for the best rate. Nuances about question wording, the breadth of the applicant’s representations or how a court may analyze the insurer’s questions or the policyholder’s answers usually take a back seat to the central importance of placing and renewing coverage at a realistic price. But once a claim is made, insurers look back at applications to assess the accuracy and completeness of all information received during the underwriting process, especially in signed applications. If the insurer discovers a misrepresentation, it can be used to rescind the policy, leaving the insured with no coverage. 

Time 5 Minute Read

Last week, a California federal judge held that a D&O liability insurer must advance subpoena-related defense costs on behalf of two former biotech directors and officers after the insurer could not provide conclusive evidence that the subpoenas alleged actual wrongdoing by the individuals after the company’s merger, as required to trigger the policy’s “Change in Control” exclusion. See AmTrust Int’l Underwriters DAC, Plaintiff, v. 180 Life Sciences Corp., et al., N.D. Cal. No. 22-CV-03844-BLF, 2024 WL 557724 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 12, 2024). The decision highlights the interplay of two significant D&O coverage issues—government investigations and M&A transactions—and underscores why policyholders must pay close attention to how their liability insurance policies may be impacted by a merger, acquisition, asset sale or similar deal.

Time 6 Minute Read

D&O, E&O, and other professional liability insurers often raise the insurability, or rather “uninsurability” loss defense. Consistent with our prior analysis of the ways the Ohio district court erred in assessing insurability, the Sixth Circuit’s recent decision in Huntington National Bank v. AIG outlines how courts should evaluate insurability defenses, particularly in the absence of public policy rendering a loss uninsurable.

Time 3 Minute Read

Earlier this month, the US Tax Court agreed with an IRS determination against favorable tax treatment of premium and dividend payments using a foreign captive. In the decision, the court ruled that a financial services company could not deduct millions of business expenses for purported insurance coverage through an affiliate captive company or take advantage of preferential rates for dividends paid by the captive to the company’s shareholders. While properly organized and administered captives can take advantage of numerous features not available through the traditional insurance market, the ruling highlights challenges companies may face if a captive is not implemented correctly.

Time 6 Minute Read

Most modern liability insurance policies have provisions addressing whether different claims are “related” (or “interrelated”) for assessing potential coverage. Because the answer of whether two claims are “related” depends heavily on the facts giving rise to the underlying claims, the policy language, and applicable law, questions about relatedness can lead to significant insurance coverage disputes.

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Last week, the Delaware Insurance Commissioner announced a series of process and regulatory improvements to the state’s captive regime. Building upon last year's significant amendments to DGCL 145(g) expressly permitting captives to cover D&O liability, Bulletin No. 14 outlines several requirements for captives to write Side A D&O policies for Delaware corporations, including several process changes intended to improve approval timelines and speed to market.

Time 4 Minute Read

Timely notice is an important first step in a successful insurance recovery.  But insurance policies are not always straightforward in identifying how, when, and to whom notice must be provided.  Some states may also impose additional procedural hurdles, including requiring policyholders to contact their insurers before filing suit (the idea behind this requirement is that it may avoid litigation).  Failing to comply with pre-suit requirements can hurt the policyholder’s recovery, as illustrated in a recent decision from the Northern District of Texas. 

Time 5 Minute Read

The Delaware Supreme Court recently affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of a mortgage lender who sought coverage for a government investigation under its management liability insurance policy, in the case ACE American Ins. Co. v. Guaranteed Rate, Inc., No. 360, 2022 (Del.). We previously reported on the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the policyholder and ruling in favor of the policyholder on cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court rejected the insurers’ arguments that it had no duty to defend the policyholder in connection with a $15 million False Claims Act (FCA) investigation and settlement.

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As explained in a recent alert, now is the time for public companies to adopt compliant clawback policies. This is because the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently approved final rules on June 9, 2023, that required national securities exchanges like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq to implement new listing standards requiring public companies to institute compliant incentive-based compensation clawback policies. The NYSE and Nasdaq rules require listed companies to adopt clawback policies by December 1, 2023, which policies must apply to incentive compensation awarded after October 2, 2023. As public companies prepare to adopt compliant policies before the December 1, 2023 deadline, they should not only consider the clawback policy itself, but also the overlap between that policy and any applicable directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance. Doing so is important to address the potential new exposures created by the new SEC rules.

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Earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit remanded a COVID-19 insurance recovery case to the district court on jurisdictional grounds. See Great River Ent., LLC v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., No. 21-3815, 2023 WL 5839565 (8th Cir. Sept. 11, 2023).The Eighth Circuit’s decision underscores federal courts’ continued scrutiny of subject matter jurisdiction—especially in complex cases involving limited liability companies.

Time 6 Minute Read

In Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. v. BAS Holding Corp., the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected an insurer’s “insupportable” defense that the insured company had breached its duty to cooperate by refusing the insurer’s request for an examination under oath of the company’s president. The decision is a reminder that, while examinations under oath can be effective tools to allow the insurer to properly investigate a claim, an insured’s duty to cooperate is not boundless and does not demand attendance at examinations that are not reasonably requested.

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Harvard’s years-long battle with Zurich Insurance Company has finally ended. As our colleagues wrote in October 2022, Harvard already learned its lesson once when a court ruled that Zurich did not have coverage obligations after the university failed to provide timely notice of a lawsuit under its claims-made-and-reported insurance policy. Earlier this week, the First Circuit provided Harvard with a new volume explaining why it—and policyholders generally—should provide timely notice of claims to their insurers. The First Circuit’s decision in President & Fellows of Harvard Coll. v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., No. 22-1938, 2023 WL 5089317 (1st Cir. Aug. 9, 2023) is but the latest high-profile reminder about the importance of adhering to notice requirements, including with respect to excess insurers, in claims-made-and-reported insurance policies.

Time 6 Minute Read

Last week, we published a client alert discussing the importance of cyber and directors and officers liability insurance for companies and their executives to guard against cyber-related exposures.  In today’s ever-changing threat landscape, all organizations are at risk of damaging cyber incidents, and resulting investigations and lawsuits, underscoring the importance of utilizing all tools in a company’s risk mitigation toolkit, including insurance, to address these exposures. 

Time 3 Minute Read

Hardly a day passes without hearing about another major cyber incident. Recent studies show that cybersecurity incidents are becoming more common, but they are also costly, with some reports estimating an average cost of $9.44 million for breaches in the US. In recognition of this mounting problem, government agencies continue to ramp up enforcement and issue new rules, regulations and other guidance aimed at curbing cyber risks. Last week, the SEC adopted final rules requiring registered entities to periodically disclose material cybersecurity incidents and annually disclose their cybersecurity risk management, strategy and governance plans. In announcing the new rules, the SEC specifically noted that “an ever-increasing share of economic activity is dependent on electronic systems.” According to SEC Chair Gary Gensler, “Whether a company loses a factory in a fire—or millions of files in a cybersecurity incident—it may be material to investors.” 

Time 3 Minute Read

We recently posted about Nevada becoming the first state to prohibit defense-within-limits provisions in liability insurance policies. Defense-within-limits provisions—resulting in what is called “eroding” or “wasting” policies—reduce the policy’s applicable limit of insurance by amounts the insurer pays to defend the policyholder against a claim or suit. 

Time 5 Minute Read

The Fifth Circuit recently held that Blue Bell Creameries’ commercial general liability (CGL) insurers do not have a duty to defend the ice cream company in a shareholder lawsuit, which arose from a Listeria outbreak. The decision underscores the importance of coordination of different coverages and policies across insurance programs, as well as the potential perils policyholders may face if forced to seek recovery for certain losses under non-traditional policies.

Time 3 Minute Read

Nevada recently became the first state to prohibit defense-within-limits provisions in liability insurance policies. Defense-within-limits provisions—resulting in what’s called “eroding” or “wasting” policies—reduce the policy’s applicable limit of insurance by amounts the insurer pays to defend the policyholder against a claim or suit. These provisions are commonly included in errors and omissions (E&O), directors and officers (D&O) and other management liability policies. This is in contrast to other policies, most commonly commercial general liability policies, which provide defense “outside of limits” where defense costs do not reduce the policy’s limit. 

Time 5 Minute Read

The False Claims Act continues to make headlines. The DOJ announced earlier this year that its fiscal-year recoveries—across 351 settlements and judgments—exceeded $2.2 billion, which was the second-highest number of settlements recorded in a single year. More recently, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument and is poised to issue a decision in a closely-watched FCA case that could radically change the balance of power between the government and industry.

Time 6 Minute Read

An insurer for University of Southern California recently filed suit in California federal court against the university and a former gynecologist at USC’s Student Health Center seeking to rescind USC’s insurance policy.  The dispute concerns North American Capacity Insurance Company’s coverage obligations for hundreds of sexual abuse-based lawsuits brought against USC.  NACIC seeks, among other things, to rescind a policy it sold to USC based on alleged failures by USC to disclose material facts during the policy application process.  NACIC is also seeking to avoid its coverage obligations under the policy’s “Prior Known Acts” exclusion.

Time 5 Minute Read

A New York Federal judge recently ordered a directors and officers liability insurer to pay $4.5 million that an investment firm had spent defending an arbitration proceeding brought by a former executive. The court found that allegations of constructive termination and related retaliation triggered an exception to the D&O policy’s insured-versus-insured exclusion for employment-related wrongful acts, rejecting the insurer’s argument that, notwithstanding the former executive’s count for constructive termination, his status as an “Insured Person” triggered the exclusion where the majority of counts in the arbitration related to alleged breaches of the firm’s operating agreement.  

Time 11 Minute Read

As discussed in a recent client alert, a Delaware court issued a significant opinion in a directors and officers liability claim involving a special purpose acquisition company. In an issue of first impression in Delaware, the Superior Court in Clover Health Investments Corp. v. Berkley Insurance Co. held that directors and officers of the post-merger entity were “Insured Persons” under the SPAC’s D&O policy because they were acting in “functionally equivalent” roles to directors and officers of the SPAC when the alleged pre-merger wrongful conduct took place. The court’s pro-policyholder rulings on coverage for government investigations, based on an ambiguous definition of “Claim,” and allocation of defense costs under the Larger Settlement Rule also have potential ramifications on future D&O claims in Delaware outside of SPAC deals.

Time 5 Minute Read

Earlier this month, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that Call One Inc., a tele-communications company, must litigate a claim by its insurer, Berkley Insurance Company, seeking to rescind coverage based on the information provided by the policyholder in its application for insurance. The coverage dispute is illustrative of insurers’ increased scrutiny of the answers to all policy application questions—including where no response is provided—to identify new or additional grounds to avoid coverage, even if it requires rescission of the policy. Policyholders should thus carefully consider all questions and requirements during the policy application process (including during renewal) to avoid potential disclosure disputes should a claim arise.

Time 5 Minute Read

The Delaware Chancery Court recently held that the duty of oversight extended to corporate officers. The important decision came after McDonald’s shareholders sued the company’s former head of human resources, alleging that the officer breached his duty of oversight by “allowing a corporate culture to develop that condoned sexual harassment and misconduct.” In that same decision, Vice Chancellor Laster also determined that acts of sexual harassment can constitute a breach of fiduciary duty. Officers are rightly focused on the potential ramifications on their personal liability following the ruling. But that potential increased exposure also raises several insurance implications for companies to consider while procuring and renewing directors and officers insurance coverage.

Time 6 Minute Read

On November 23, 2022, a federal court in Minnesota highlighted the importance of strategically approaching product liability claims, both in terms of their underlying defense and their insurability. In Federal Insurance Company v. 3M Company, No. 21-2093 (JRT/DTS), 2022 WL 17176889 (D. Minn. Nov. 23, 2022), the court rejected the insurer’s attempt to treat each underlying lawsuit as a separate occurrence, thereby maximizing per-occurrence deductibles, and instead found that the manufacture of the allegedly defective medical devices was the sole occurrence responsible for each of the lawsuits. 3M, therefore, was only required to pay a single deductible.

Time 5 Minute Read

A New York federal court recently held that an insurance company was entitled to recoup legal fees paid under a directors and officers liability policy in defense of a criminal action against an ex-CEO who was convicted of bribery. On a motion for reconsideration, the court affirmed its earlier ruling that the CEO’s conduct fell within the policy’s “Dishonest and Willful Acts Exclusion,” reasoning that the criminal case had been finally adjudicated despite a pending appeal. Because there was no coverage, the insurer could seek repayment of all defense costs it had paid to date. Not only is the court’s recoupment decision potentially inconsistent with New York law, but it also raises thorny questions regarding just when a judgment is “final” for the purpose of triggering D&O policy exclusions.

Time 7 Minute Read

Last week, Kim Kardashian settled with the SEC after the SEC announced charges against the social-media and reality TV star for promoting a crypto-currency token called EthereumMax, on her Instagram account, where she boasts more than 330 million followers, without disclosing that she received payment for the promotion. Kardashian agreed to pay $1.26 million in penalties, including the $250,000 EthereumMax paid her for promoting its crypto-tokens to potential investors. SEC Chair Gary Gensler stated that Kardashian’s case is “a reminder to celebrities and others that the law requires them to disclose to the public when and how much they are paid to promote investing in securities.”

Time 7 Minute Read

A Delaware court recently granted summary judgment to a mortgage broker targeted in a federal government investigation for alleged False Claims Act violations, holding that the company’s directors and officers liability (“D&O”) insurer was required to indemnify more than $15 million in settlement costs with the U.S. Department of Justice. Guaranteed Rate, Inc. v. ACE American Insurance Company, No. N20C-04-268 MMJ CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. Sept. 6, 2022). We previously reported on the policyholder’s earlier victory in this case, in which the court held that a Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) from federal authorities triggered the insurer’s obligation to pay defense costs under the D&O policy.

Time 4 Minute Read

From IRS rulings that “virtual currency” is taxed as “property” to an SEC lawsuit claiming that digital assets are “securities” under federal law, meteoric growth of the largely unregulated crypto industry has raised numerous questions about whether crypto-related risks are covered by insurance. In the latest example of the intersection of crypto and insurance, a California federal court recently held that cryptocurrency stolen from a Coinbase account did not constitute a covered loss under a homeowner’s insurance policy. The fundamental issue was whether the stolen crypto met the policy’s requirement for “direct physical loss to property” and, more specifically, whether the losses were “physical” in nature. The court ruled against coverage, reasoning that lost control of cryptocurrency is not a direct physical loss as a matter of California law.

Time 4 Minute Read

Massachusetts’ highest court ruled earlier this month that attorney’s fees awarded under the Commonwealth’s consumer protection statute are not covered damages under a general liability insurance policy. Consequently, the decision in Vermont Mutual Insurance Co. v. Poirier, Slip Op. SJC-13209 (July 6, 2022), means that companies sued for allegedly unfair or deceptive practices may be left to fund awards of attorneys’ fees under Chapter 93A, even where other aspects of their liability may be covered by insurance.

Time 3 Minute Read

The IRS recently filed a petition to enforce summonses issued to investigate tax liability stemming from a business’s involvement in a captive insurance transaction. While captives can have many advantages—ranging from increased control, reduced costs, and favorable tax benefits—the IRS petition underscores the importance of structuring and implementing captives in accordance with all applicable laws.

Time 7 Minute Read

A post on the Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives Blog recently discussed how Democrats in the House of Representatives sought to amend the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as part of new proposed legislation called the “Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act”. The post concluded that the legislation, if enacted, would increase both the frequency and severity of not only FLSA collective actions but also of investigations and enforcement actions by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Time 5 Minute Read

One of the most valuable aspects of liability insurance is defense coverage, which protects policyholders from significant costs to defend against and litigate claims that may never result in a judgment or settlement. Companies and their directors and officers can incur thousands or even millions of dollars in defending against claims that are resolved long before trial. Even after purchasing robust defense coverage and getting an insurer to defend a claim, however, companies may be surprised when months or even years later the insurer reverses its position and not only withdraws from the defense but also demands repayment of all defense costs paid to date. A recent case, Evanston Insurance Co. v. Winstar Properties, Inc. No. 218CV07740RGKKES, 2022 WL 1309843 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2022), shows the perils of insurer “recoupment” and underscores the importance of assessing insurer recoupment rights, if any, throughout the claims process.

Time 4 Minute Read

Policyholders must be mindful of expansive causation language in policy exclusions that could pose significant—and sometimes unforeseen—hurdles to obtaining coverage for D&O claims. In TriPacific Capital Advisors, LLC v. Federal Insurance Co., a California federal court recently ruled that a D&O insurer had no duty to defend an investment firm’s $8.5 million employment suit because coverage was barred by the policy’s broad contract exclusion, which applied not only to breach of contract claims but also any claims “arising from” contractual liability owed by the company.

Time 4 Minute Read

The Delaware legislature recently passed an amendment to the statute governing Delaware corporations’ ability to indemnify directors and officers. That statute—8 Del. Law 145—provides that Delaware corporations “may” purchase “insurance” to insure liability of their directors, officers, employees, and agents “whether or not the corporation would have the power to indemnify such person against such liability.” The recent amendment clarifies that “insurance” includes captive insurance. It states: “For purposes of this subsection, insurance shall include any insurance provided directly or indirectly (including pursuant to any fronting or reinsurance arrangement) by or through a captive insurance company organized and licensed in compliance with the laws of any jurisdiction . . . .”

Time 3 Minute Read

From event-driven litigation and event cancellations to securities claims and regulatory enforcement actions, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a number of directors and officers liability exposures extending far beyond business interruption losses. The first wave of COVID-19 securities suits, for example, focused on allegations that companies made false and misleading statements or failed to disclose in securities filings how they responded to the pandemic (in the case of several cruise lines) or stood to benefit from it (in the case of pharmaceutical companies). Most, but not all, of those suits were dismissed on early motions. In all cases, however, those companies and individuals would have benefited from robust D&O liability insurance coverage.

Time 3 Minute Read

2022 has kicked off with several new whistleblower awards, as the SEC announced earlier this week that it had awarded more than $4 million to whistleblowers who provided information and assistance in two government actions—one for misconduct occurring overseas and a second where the whistleblower’s assistance directly led to the success of the covered action.

Time 3 Minute Read

We have written over the past year about a string of pro-policyholder decisions from Delaware courts. One policyholder, however, recently had its claims dismissed based on application of Delaware law, based on one of 2020’s important D&O cases that limited coverage for appraisal actions initiated by stockholders pursuant to Title 8, Section 262 of the Delaware Code. In Stillwater Mining Co. v. National Union, the Delaware Superior Court explained that Stillwater had seized upon the Court’s 2019 opinion in Solera Holdings v. XL Specialty, which had held that a Section 262 appraisal action constituted a “securities claim” because it alleged a “violation” of state statutory or common law regulating securities. The policyholder alleged in its complaint that Delaware law governed the D&O policy, but when the Delaware Supreme Court reversed Solera, Stillwater “pivoted” to the view that Montana law, rather than Delaware law, governed the policy.

Time 5 Minute Read

Policyholders have scored another victory in the Delaware Superior Court, this time on the issue of whether a “mergers and acquisition” endorsement required payment of a higher retention in two securities class actions. In August, we reported that, in CVR Refining, LP v. XL Specialty Insurance Co., No. N21C-01-260 EMD CCLD, 2021 WL 3523925 (Del. Super. Ct. Aug. 11, 2021), a Delaware Superior Court judge upheld a policyholder’s preferred forum in Delaware, denying five insurers’ motion to dismiss or stay the Delaware coverage action filed after the insurers had filed suit preemptively in Texas.

Time 8 Minute Read

Earlier this month, current and former Boeing Company directors agreed to a $237.5 million settlement to resolve claims that they ignored safety issues concerning Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft. While the settlement, which came quickly on the heels of the Delaware Chancery Court’s September denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss, ranks as one of the largest derivative settlements of all time, the silver lining for the directors and officers named in the suit is that the entire settlement is to be funded by the company’s D&O insurers. The Boeing case is yet another example of the necessity for public companies to purchase sufficient D&O liability coverage, particularly “Side A” insurance coverage, to protect officers and directors implicated in derivative claims, securities class actions, enforcement actions, and similar claims. Because many states, including Delaware, prohibit companies from indemnifying officers and directors for payments made to the company in settlement of stockholder derivative claims or other suits brought on behalf of the company, securing Side A coverage to protect individuals for non-indemnified loss is essential.

Time 1 Minute Read

Congratulations to Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP insurance recovery lawyer, Jorge Aviles, on his confirmation by the DC Bar Foundation’s Board of Directors to the organization’s Young Lawyers Network Leadership Council.

Time 6 Minute Read

What Happened:

The Tenth Circuit held that, under Colorado law, an insurer did not need to cover a satellite television provider under two commercial umbrella liability policies in connection with a lawsuit alleging the company’s telemarketing practices violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. §227 et seq.

The Bottom Line:

This decision is a reminder that policy wording, as well as state law governing interpretation of insurance policies, varies greatly with respect to potential insurance coverage for alleged violations of the TCPA and similar statutes. While some states have characterized TCPA remedies as uninsurable penalties, it is not consistent across the country and policyholders therefore must review their policies carefully to determine the existence and scope of any TCPA coverage.

In addition, because the Tenth Circuit’s decision means that—in Colorado at least—claims for statutory damages under the TCPA may not be insurable, companies engaging in telephonic communications with consumers must ensure that they have robust TCPA compliant policies and procedures in place to further limit TCPA exposure.

Time 4 Minute Read

Last month, the US District Court for the District of Connecticut granted an insurer’s motion for summary judgment in the case of Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA, No. 3:19cv839 (JBA), finding that there was no coverage under a directors & officers policy for defense costs associated with responding to a government subpoena. Last week, in line with our commentary, which highlighted several critical flaws in the court’s initial ruling, the court reversed itself and granted reconsideration, finding that there actually is coverage.

Time 6 Minute Read

While policyholders have experienced a wide range of conflicting rulings related to COVID-19 business interruption losses, a recent Northern District of Illinois decision shows that the pandemic continues to present a range of exposures beyond business interruption losses, including for claims under directors and officers liability policies. In Federal Insurance Co. v. Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc., No. 20 C 6797 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 19, 2021), the court rejected the insurer’s broad reading of a professional services exclusion, contract exclusion, and the insurability of alleged restitution to deny coverage under a D&O policy for losses arising from a cancelled trade show.

Time 2 Minute Read

Last year, we wrote about the UK’s National Security and Investment Bill, which was pending approval at the end of 2020. A few months into the New Year, the bill received Royal Assent, making it the “biggest shake-up of UK’s investment screening regime in 20 years.”

The NSI Act is now scheduled to take effect on January 4, 2022. However, businesses should be aware of the Act’s requirements now because it has a retroactive effect, where the government can “call in” transactions that have closed since November 12, 2020 for in-depth review if it believes a transaction gives ...

Time 7 Minute Read

While total False Claims Act recoveries decreased in 2020, FCA litigation and investigations are expected to continue to rise under the Biden administration, driven in part by the DOJ opening 250 new FCA investigations and actions in 2020, which is the highest number of new matters since 1994. As recent decisions show, the good news is that companies incurring legal fees defending against government investigations or negotiating settlements with regulators to resolve FCA claims may be able to look to D&O coverage to mitigate those losses. One such company recently prevailed in its $10 million claim against an excess D&O insurer following the insurer’s improper refused to contribute its policy limits to an FCA settlement with the DOJ. The Illinois federal court decision, Astellas US Holdings, Inc. v. Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., No. 17-cv-08220 (E.D. Ill. Oct. 8, 2021), which focuses on whether $50 million of Astellas’s settlement payment to the DOJ was covered “Loss” under the D&O policy, provides useful guidance for companies facing potential FCA exposures.

Time 4 Minute Read

A federal court in New York denied an insurer’s attempt to dismiss a coverage dispute, rejecting the insurer’s contention that the individual insured directors were “necessary” parties. The insurer argued that, because the outcome of the coverage suit could jeopardize the directors’ indemnity and thereby implicate the D&O policy’s Side A coverage for non-indemnified losses, the directors had an indispensable interest in the litigation. The court disagreed.

The coverage dispute in LRN Corp. v. Markel Insurance Co., 1:20-cv-08431 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2021), arose from an underlying lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court brought by an LRN shareholder against the company and three of its directors. The plaintiff in the underlying lawsuit alleged that a self-tender offer by LRN to acquire shares of LRN’s common stock was coercive and part of a scheme that was in part orchestrated by the LRN’s directors. LRN, though dismissed from the underlying lawsuit, continued to pay legal fees for the named directors.

Time 6 Minute Read

The Superior Court of Delaware held that a directors and officers liability insurer must advance defense costs to a mortgage broker targeted in a federal government investigation of alleged False Claims Act violations. In Guaranteed Rate, Inc. v. ACE American Insurance Company, No. N20C-04-268 MMJ CCLD (Del. Sup. Ct. Aug. 18, 2021), Guaranteed Rate received a Civil Investigative Demand from federal authorities in June 2019 regarding the company’s underwriting and issuance of federally-insured mortgage loans. Eleven days later, Guaranteed Rate provided notice of the CID under a private company management liability policy issued by ACE American Insurance Company.

Time 5 Minute Read

A Delaware Superior Court judge recently upheld a policyholder’s preferred forum in Delaware, denying five insurers’ motion to dismiss or stay the Delaware coverage action filed after the insurers had filed suit preemptively in Texas. The court in CVR Refining, LP v. XL Specialty Insurance Co., No. N21C-01-260 EMD CCLD, 2021 WL 3523925 (Del. Super. Ct. Aug. 11, 2021), held that, although the insurers (XL Specialty, Twin City Fire, Allianz Global Risks US, Argonaut, and Allied World) filed suit three days before the insureds, both suits were filed “contemporaneously” under Delaware law and that the insurers had failed to demonstrate any “overwhelming hardship” necessary to dismiss the case. The court also found that, since the insurers were all licensed to do business in Delaware, they could not show overwhelming hardship. Thus, the policyholder’s preference to litigate its insurance claims in Delaware must stand.

Time 6 Minute Read

A California federal district court recently denied an insurer’s motion to dismiss a manufacturer’s insurance coverage suit on the grounds that an “unfair competition” exclusion barred coverage for a suit that alleged violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. The court allowed the suit to proceed because the exclusion did not clearly, explicitly, and unambiguously apply to the product liability suit alleged against the manufacturer. The decision in Arovast Corporation v. Great American E&S Insurance Co., No. SACV 21-596-CJC (C.D. Cal. Aug. 2, 2021) highlights the broad range of activities that can be found in “unfair competition,” “antitrust,” and similar exclusions and how they can be cited as grounds to deny coverage in a variety of contexts beyond the anti-competitive claims those labels may suggest to most policyholders.

Time 8 Minute Read

A company faces two class action lawsuits—filed by different plaintiffs, complaining of different allegedly wrongful conduct, asserting different causes of action subject to different burdens of proof, and seeking different relief based on different time periods for the alleged harm. Those facts suggest the suits are not “fundamentally identical,” but that is what a Delaware Superior Court recently concluded in barring coverage for a policyholder seeking to recover for a suit the court deemed “related” to an earlier lawsuit first made outside the policy’s coverage period. First Solar Inc. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., No. N20C-10-156 MMJ CCLD (Del. Super. Ct. June 23, 2021). The decision, which is not on all fours with some of the authority upon which it relies, underscores the inherent unpredictability of “related” claim disputes and need for careful analysis of the policy language against the factual and legal bases of the underlying claims.

Time 5 Minute Read

Hunton Andrews Kurth’s insurance coverage team recently published a client alert discussing a D&O coverage dispute arising from a contractual liability exclusion.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a D&O liability insurer could not rely on ambiguous endorsements as a basis to deny coverage for claims brought by investors against its insured company and its CEO. Reversing the Eastern District of Missouri, the appellate court in Verto Medical Solutions LLC, et al. v. Allied World Specialty Insurance Co., No.19-3511 (8th Cir.), found the policy ambiguous as to whether a contractual liability exclusion had been deleted by endorsement and thus, the insurer must provide coverage for the underlying claims.

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The Northern District of New York recently awarded summary judgment to insurer Affiliated Factory Mutual Insurance Co. against Mohawk Gaming Enterprises, a casino and resort operated by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe located on the border of New York and Canada. Mohawk Gaming sued AFM seeking recovery of business income losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In granting the insurer’s motion, however, the court failed to consider all parts of the AFM policy, as required under New York law, and failed to afford meaning to specific language contained in the policy’s two communicable disease sections, each of which specifically contemplate that “communicable disease,” as defined and covered under the AFM policy, can cause loss and damage to property. Instead, the court followed other decisions from “numerous courts around the country,” each of which is based on inherently flawed reasoning (e.g., reliance on cases where no presence of virus was alleged or cases that clearly and broadly excluded loss caused by virus), to conclude that the presence of virus “is insufficient to trigger coverage when the policy’s language requires physical loss or physical damage.” In fact, a federal court in Texas recently rejected the very same reasoning employed in Mohawk Gaming after recognizing that the FM/AFM policy form “is much broader than [others] and expressly covers loss and damage caused by ‘communicable disease.’” See Cinemark Holdings, Inc. v. Factory Mut. Ins. Co., No. 4:21-cv-00011 (E.D. Tex. May 5, 2021).

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Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the Southern District of New York’s award of over $2 million to policyholder, Fabrique Innovations, Inc., against its ocean cargo insurance carrier, Federal Insurance Company.

Federal issued an “all-risk” ocean cargo insurance policy to Fabrique for fabric and plush merchandise “temporarily in storage” at a warehouse owed by Hancock Fabrics. Fabrique’s goods were lost when Hancock liquidated its holdings—including Fabrique’s merchandise—as part of Hancock’s bankruptcy proceedings. Following the loss, Fabrique filed a claim under its policy with Federal. Federal denied the claim, citing various exclusions, including an exclusion for “loss, damage or expense caused by or resulting from willful misconduct, fraud or deceit,” which the insurer argued was triggered due to Hancock’s sale of the goods in violation of the parties’ third-party logistics agreement.

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In September, we discussed a Florida district court’s finding that an insurer must defend a Miami strip club in a lawsuit filed by 17 models who alleged the club used their images to promote its business without authorization. Recently, an Illinois federal judge ruled similarly, ordering that First Mercury Insurance Company defend its insured, Triple Location, against a similar lawsuit.

In First Mercury Insurance Co. v. Triple Location LLC, three models sued the insured strip club after it allegedly published their images without consent. The models claimed the unauthorized postings created the false impression that they had agreed to promote the insured business, Club O, which harmed their image, brand, and marketability. The models also alleged that the club was negligent in failing to adopt and implement policies and procedures to prevent the misappropriation of images.

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Hunton Andrews Kurth's insurance coverage team recently published a client alert discussing a D&O coverage dispute arising from a credit union’s post-acquisition fraud claims.

Everest National Insurance Company has filed a lawsuit denying any obligation to cover a post-acquisition lawsuit by a credit union alleging fraud against two banks and their executives. The seller paid additional premium for an extended reporting period to report claims based on pre-acquisition wrongful conduct, but the insurer denied coverage on the ground that any claims asserted by the buyer are excluded under the D&O policy’s “insured vs. insured” exclusion. The decision underscores the importance of not only ensuring continuity of D&O coverage before and after a transaction but also evaluating all possible claim scenarios arising out of a deal to ensure that all stakeholders are adequately protected.

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In a recent post on the Nickel Report (“Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance: What are the Risks, Really?”), our colleagues provide a thoughtful discussion of various risks, trending issues, and emerging concerns arising from environmental, social, and corporate governance (“ESG”). One key takeaway is that ESG-related activity at the federal government is just getting started and that agencies have already begun devoting substantial resources to ESG issues, like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s recently-announced Climate and ESG task force to “develop initiatives to proactively identify ESG-related misconduct.”

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In another pro-policyholder ruling in Delaware, a Delaware Superior Court judge has denied a group of insurers’ application for certification of interlocutory appeal in the long-running D&O dispute, Verizon Communications Inc. et al. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, et al., C.A. No. N18C-08-086 EMD CCLD (Del. Super. March 16, 2021). The court’s most recent decision arises out of a February 23 ruling that Verizon could recover $24 million in legal fees incurred in defense of a fraudulent transfer lawsuit brought by a bankruptcy trustee. When the insurers’ sought to appeal this interlocutory decision, the court refused, concluding that the benefits of an immediate appeal, if any, do not outweigh the probable costs. The decision will permit the orderly resolution of what the court deemed to be “standard contract law principles,” which the insurers had failed to demonstrate negated coverage.

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Hunton insurance attorneys Syed Ahmad, Geoffrey Fehling, and Kevin Small commented on a retailer’s insurance dispute related to COVID-19 in the latest edition of the Recall Roundup, posted on the Hunton Retail Law Resource Blog.

In a setback for retail-policyholders hoping to enforce coverage for losses due to COVID-19 in federal court, a Tennessee district court recently knocked out a complaint filed by a sprawling Nashville establishment seeking coverage under a food contamination provision in its property policy. The court’s opinion dismissing Nashville Underground LLC v. AMCO Insurance Co. is noteworthy due to the great lengths taken to define a policy provision—intended to provide broad coverage for disruption of business due to the suspicion of food contamination—in a way that limits coverage contrary to the reasonable expectations of businesses purchasing policies specifically tailored to protect against actual or suspected contamination.

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On March 3, 2021, the Delaware Supreme Court issued a landmark decision holding that Delaware law should be applied in disputes over directors and officers liability (“D&O”) insurance policies sold to companies incorporated in Delaware. RSUI Indem. Co. v. Murdock, et al. No. 154, 2020, C.A. No. N16C-01-104 CCLD (Del. Mar. 3, 2021). The court addressed this and other key issues in the long-running dispute over D&O insurance purchased by Dole Food Company, specifically addressing issues raised by Dole’s eighth-layer excess insurer, RSUI, which provided $10 million coverage excess of $75 million.

The court decided multiple important issues, finding that liability for alleged fraud is insurable under Delaware public policy, RSUI’s Profit/Fraud Exclusion did not bar coverage because there had been no “final adjudication” of fraud, and the “larger sums rule” governed allocation issues. However, among these important rulings, the most significant may be the Supreme Court’s ruling that Delaware governs the interpretation of D&O insurance issued to a company incorporated in Delaware.  The court specifically rejected the insurer’s arguments that California law (which might preclude coverage) should apply under a policy that was purchased and issued in California to a Delaware corporation headquartered in California.

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A South Florida restaurant has asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a federal district court’s ruling that the restaurant is not entitled to coverage under an “all risk” commercial property insurance policy for lost income and extra expenses resulting from nearby road construction. In the underlying coverage action, the policyholder, Mama Jo’s (operating as Berries in the Grove), sought coverage under its all-risk policy for business income losses and expenses caused by construction dust and debris that migrated into the restaurant. Should the Supreme Court grant certiorari, the case will be closely watched by insurers and policyholders alike as an indicator of the scope of coverage available under all-risk policies and whether the principles pertinent to construction dust and debris (at issue in Mama Jo’s claim) have any application to the thousands of pending claims for COVID-19-related business interruption losses pending in the state and federal court systems.

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In a resounding victory for policyholders, an Oklahoma state court granted partial summary judgment for the Cherokee Nation in its COVID-19 business interruption claim. The Cherokee Nation is seeking coverage for losses caused by the pandemic—specifically, the inability to use numerous tribal businesses and services for their intended purpose.

Based on the “all risks” nature of the policy and the fortuitous nature of its loss, the Cherokee Nation sought a partial summary judgment ruling that the policies afford business interruption coverage for COVID-19-related losses. The policy provided coverage for “all risk of direct physical loss or damage,” which the Cherokee Nation contended was triggered when the property was “rendered unusable for its intended purpose.” In support of this view, and consistent with established insurance policy interpretation principles, such as providing meaning to every term and reading the policy as a whole, the Cherokee Nation argued that a distinction must exist between “physical loss” and “physical damage.” This distinction demands an interpretation supporting the “intended purpose” reading of the policy language. Thus, the physical presence of COVID-19 depriving the Cherokee Nation of the use of covered property for its intended purpose triggered a covered loss.

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From event-driven litigation to government investigations, 2020 has brought a variety of directors’ and officers’ liability exposures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking toward the new year, we expect that robust D&O insurance programs will remain of critical importance for companies and their officers and directors in 2021 and beyond.

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The Nasdaq stock market has filed a proposal with the US Securities and Exchange Commission requesting permission to enforce new rules aimed at advancing diversity among board members of Nasdaq-listed companies and increasing disclosure of diversity statistics. Investors and shareholders have devoted significant attention (and several lawsuits) in recent years to addressing environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) issues at the board level. Nasdaq’s proposal would bring diversity to the forefront of the boardroom, as well as present new compliance obligations and possible D&O exposures to companies subject to the proposed listing requirements.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has levied $125,000 in civil penalties on Cheesecake Factory as part of a settlement to resolve the agency’s allegations that the company made materially misleading statements to investors about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business. While this is the first such case reported by the SEC, it is only one in a string of recent third-party liabilities companies have faced that implicate directors’ and officers’ liability insurance coverage.

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A D.C. federal judge recently held that an insurer could be responsible to a TV station for more than $25 million in an underlying malpractice suit where the insurer failed to send timely notice preserving its rights under the policy in violation of a Virginia statute.

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A federal judge has denied an insurance company’s motion to dismiss the claims of another insurer seeking reimbursement and contribution for the $15 million it paid to settle underlying claims arising from a product recall.

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As reported in a recent Hunton Andrews Kurth client alert, Mitigating FCRA Risks in the COVID-19 World (Oct. 23, 2020), consumer litigation claims related to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) doubled in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a slight decrease in FCRA filings due to court closures and other COVID-19 restrictions, claims will likely resume their previous upward trajectory. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already seen an uptick in consumer complaints, many of which mention COVID-19 specific keywords.

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As has been widely reported, insurance companies have been inundated with claims arising from the novel coronavirus and are locked into contentious coverage battles regarding the scope of coverage afforded for such claims under various policy forms. Courts have begun issuing decisions both for and against policyholders attempting recovery for COVID-19-related losses, and the legal battles resolving those questions will likely take months or even years to play out.

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A New York appeals court recently granted partial summary judgment in favor of the insureds, finding that excess directors and officers insurers, Westchester Fire Insurance Co., Aspen American Insurance Co. and RSUI Indemnity Co., must advance the defense costs for former executives of the insured entity. The decision is the most recent victory for policyholders in connection with D&O insurance claims asserted in the wake of alleged securities violations and accounting fraud at related real estate investment firms, which have resulted in millions of insurance recoveries for the company and its officers and directors (as previously reported here and here).

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A hotel operator defeated an insurer’s motion to dismiss its suit alleging that the insurer wrongfully denied coverage and acted in bad faith by denying the hotel’s $1.9 million claim arising from an employee’s fraudulent scheme diverting commissions to fictitious travel agencies. The court held that the hotel operator had suffered an “insurable loss” and rejected the insurer’s argument that the claim was barred under the policy’s suit limitations provision.

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A group of Las Vegas-based restaurants recently filed a class action lawsuit to recover business interruption damages against their insurer. The Egg Works chain alleged that U.S. Specialty wrongly denied their claims for financial losses stemming from the Nevada governor’s closure of non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s orders limited the restaurants to takeout and delivery service only.

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An appeals court has overturned an insurer’s successful dismissal of an insurance coverage lawsuit arising from the insurer’s refusal to defend a North Carolina assisted living operator in a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging more than $60 million in damages. The court held that that the insurer improperly denied coverage under the operator’s professional liability policy (covering “damages resulting from a claim arising out of a medical incident”) because the alleged improper billing had a causal connection to the operator’s failure to render medical professional services and, therefore, “arose out of” a covered medical incident.

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The Fourth Circuit recently held that an insurance company was obligated to cover millions in legal fees incurred in defending an employment suit against the owners of DARCARS, a DC-area based car dealership. The court ruled that the relevant policy exclusion was ambiguous and, as a result, construed the exclusion narrowly against the insurer and in favor of coverage.

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In a prior post, we predicted that novel coronavirus (COVID-19) risks could implicate D&O and similar management liability coverage arising from so-called “event-driven” litigation, a new kind of securities class action that relies on specific adverse events, rather than fraudulent financial disclosures or accounting issues, as the catalyst for targeting both companies and their directors and officers for the resulting drop in stock price. It appears that ship has sailed, so to speak, as Kevin LaCroix at D&O Diary reported over the weekend that a plaintiff shareholder had filed a securities class action lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd. alleging that the company employed misleading sales tactics related to the outbreak.

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The CDC reports that, as of the end of last week, the coronavirus disease had spread through China and to 31 other countries and territories, including the United States, which has now seen its first two related deaths. The public health response in the United States has been swift and includes travel advisories, heightened airport screening, and repatriation and quarantine of potentially infected individuals. Outside the United States, countries like China, Italy, and South Korea have implemented more severe measures to combat the disease. From smart phones to automobiles, coronavirus has major short- and long-term implications for public and private companies facing potentially significant supply chain disruptions, store and office closures, and other logistical issues. These business losses, however, may be covered by insurance. Below are several key insurance considerations for policyholders to contemplate when evaluating the availability of insurance coverage for coronavirus-driven losses.

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A New York appellate court recently held that renewable bio-diesel fuel manufacturer BioEnergy Development Group LLC may pursue tens of millions of dollars in damages from its insurers under two all-risk insurance policies, including amounts in excess of the policy limits, where the insurers refused to pay claims in a timely manner.

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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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Real estate investment trust VERIET, Inc. (formerly known as American Realty Capital Properties) announced this week that it agreed to a $765.5 million settlement to resolve shareholder class action and related lawsuits arising from a host of alleged securities violations and accounting fraud at ARCP since the company went public in 2011. Defendants in the class action settlement have agreed to pay more than $1 billion in compensation, including millions from ARCP’s former manager and principals, chief financial officer, and former auditor.

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The Seventh Circuit recently withdrew its controversial opinion that broadly interpreted an exclusion in Emmis Communications Corporation’s D&O policy, thereby barring coverage for losses in connection with claims of circumstances “as reported” under Emmis’ other insurance policy. The reversal, while very rare, was the correct result that alleviated concerns about the chilling effect the court’s broad reading of the exclusion may have on policyholders’ decisions to provide notice under all potentially applicable insurance policies.

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Recent reports of another social engineering scam, this time at a North Carolina public school system, demonstrates why public entities and companies, alike, need to regularly review their cyber vulnerabilities and potential exposures and ensure that their cyber insurance is properly tailored for their specific risks.

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Following a six-day trial, a Texas jury found that Great American Insurance Company breached its policy with a hydraulic fracturing company and engaged in unfair settlement practices when it refused to pay for loss the company sustained in a well accident. The decision highlights the need to vigorously pursue coverage using all information available and the benefits of leveraging state statutory protections governing unfair claims settlement practices to ensure that insurers handle claims in a prompt, fair, and reasonable manner.

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A federal appeals court reversed an auto parts manufacturer’s summary judgment win, construing a policy limitation on flood hazards to apply broadly to all types of losses, even though the limit “does not expressly say what losses it limits.” In Federal-Mogul LLC v. Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, manufacturer Federal-Mogul suffered more than $60 million in property and time-element losses following a 2011 flood in one of its factories in Thailand. Federal-Mogul submitted a claim to its insurer, but the insurer refused to pay more than $30 million because the flood occurred in a high hazard flood zone, to which the insurer argued a sublimit in the policy applied.

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A federal court in Pennsylvania has held that Liberty Mutual must defend its insured, Hershey Creamery Company, in an intellectual property infringement lawsuit because the suit raises claims that potentially implicate coverage under the policies’ personal and advertising injury coverages. The court further found that the alleged wrongful conduct was not subject to the policies’ IP infringement exclusion.

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The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to construe an ambiguous definition of actual cash value to allow for deduction of labor costs as part of depreciation calculations where that subset of repair costs are not clearly addressed in the policy. Despite the split of authority nationwide, the Tennessee case presents a straightforward application of policy interpretation principles to a common valuation issue in first-party property claims.

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Gatwick airport has been shut down since Wednesday night UK time due to the presence of multiple drones around the perimeter of the runway. A drone was first spotted Wednesday evening in the vicinity of Gatwick’s runway. After being briefly re-opened several hours later, the runway was shut down for good when several more drones were discovered. Given the public safety risk of attempting to shoot the drones down from the ground, law enforcement is instead focusing on identifying and apprehending the drone operators to ensure that the area is safe for air travel.

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The Sixth Circuit recently upheld dismissal of KVG Properties, Inc.’s claims under a first-party property policy arising from damage to KVG’s office spaces due to tenants’ use of cannabis growing operations. We have been tracking the KVG case closely and previously reported on KVG’s initial appeal and Westfield’s retort on why the district court correctly dismissed the claims. Although there was no coverage for KVG under the particular facts of this case, the Sixth Circuit’s decision raises several important insurance issues for policyholders to consider and previews likely battlegrounds for future cannabis coverage disputes, many of which are precipitated by the variances in federal and state cannabis law.

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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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A Connecticut court recently denied a motion to compel appraisal of a claim for coverage of a commercial property damage claim, holding that, where the insurance policy at issue provides for appraisal of disputes related to the value or quantum or a loss suffered—not the rights and liabilities of the parties under the policy—appraisal is premature. The decision relied on law that equates insurance appraisal to arbitration and follows a number of decisions holding that parties cannot expand the scope of appraisal clauses to resolve questions of coverage or liability where, as in this case, those issues are not supported by the applicable policy language.

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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.

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Last month, we reported on the ongoing insurance coverage dispute between commercial landlord KVP Properties, Inc. and its property insurer, Westfield Insurance Company. The dispute arises from an October 2015 DEA raid on KVG-owned rental units in Novi, Michigan, which uncovered damage to the units related to the tenants’ marijuana growing operations. The arguments raised by KVG on appeal highlight a number of important marijuana-related coverage issues, which Westfield has now addressed in opposition.

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In an article recently featured in Westlaw Journal Insurance Coverage, my colleagues Lorie Masters, Michael Levine, and I discuss significant cases and other insurance developments from 2017. The full article can be found here.

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Commercial landlord KVG Properties Inc. has appealed a district court summary judgment ruling dismissing its claims under a first-party property policy issued by Westfield Insurance Company, arguing that the district court improperly rejected its claim because KVG’s tenants’ use of the property for marijuana growing operations was illegal under federal law. The appeal underscores the growing divide between state and federal marijuana laws and raises several important insurance coverage issues that will likely continue in the future.

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The calendar may have started anew in 2018, but federal regulators have affirmed that they are still firmly focused on one of 2017’s emerging issues—cryptocurrencies and, more specifically, initial coin offerings (ICO).

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With 2017 now in the rearview mirror, my colleagues Michael Levine, Lorie Masters, and I take the opportunity in this year’s annual review to reflect on the cases and other insurance developments that made the year memorable and will influence coverage decisions and disputes in 2018 and beyond.

Thank you and Happy New Year to all of our readers!

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