• Posts by Latosha M. Ellis
    Posts by Latosha M. Ellis
    Counsel

    Latosha helps policyholders maximize insurance recoveries with sound advice and effective solutions. Latosha delivers comprehensive end-to-end counsel to help clients with all of their insurance coverage needs from policy ...

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Directors and Officers (“D&O”) and cyber-related incidents continued to make headlines while ramped up regulatory enforcement and new legislation significantly altered the insurance landscape for both policyholders and insurers. Other noteworthy decisions reinforced the importance of foundational insurance coverage principals. Now that 2023 has wrapped, we highlight and review some of the most significant decisions and insurance developments that will continue to impact the world of insurance in 2024 and beyond.

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Hunton Andrews Kurth’s 300-lawyer cross-disciplinary Retail Industry Team has released its annual 2023 Retail Industry Year in Review. The Review discusses retail industry issues that implicate multiple legal practice areas and highlights new and emerging risks retailers may encounter in the year ahead.

Significant issues from 2023, with insurance implications that will continue to evolve in 2024 and beyond, include copyright infringement claims for retailers engaged in social media and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) related liability claims and related putative class action lawsuits.

We discuss these risks in the 2023 Retail Industry Year in Review and on our insurance recovery blog, along with other risks that will continue to affect the retail industry in 2024.

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It is not just your imagination:  verdicts are getting bigger.  So-called “nuclear verdicts” have increased in size and frequency over the past decade, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic.  Litigation risk insurance is a little known, but highly effective, option meant to compliment traditional insurance products and provide additional protection for policyholders nervous about litigation exposure.

Time 4 Minute Read

Major sneaker brands have capitalized on new trends in technology and social media to hype sneaker culture. As sneakers become more popular, sneaker collections increase in value, thus increasing financial exposure for collectors and other entities in the sneaker industry. One might first think of theft, authentication, fire, floods, or market valuation as the general risks associated with sneaker collections. But many sneaker companies have made headlines over the past few years with numerous lawsuits against other sneaker companies and entities with issues ranging from traditional patent battles to exhaustive fights against counterfeiters. Often overlooked by collectors and sneaker companies alike, insurance can and does play a critical role in helping both collectors and companies faced with unexpected liability related to sneaker culture.

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A federal court recently denied an insurer’s motion to dismiss an insured’s claim for declaratory relief. The insurer argued that the policyholder’s declaratory judgment claim was redundant of its breach of contract claim. The Court ruled that “redundancy is not grounds for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).”

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A New York federal judge recently ruled that an insurer waived its late notice defense because a generic reservation of rights was insufficient to preserve it. As a result, the policyholder’s claim was preserved despite being submitted more than three months after the loss—a delay which would ordinarily be fatal under New York law. The decision underscores the importance both of timely submission of claims and careful attention to reservation of rights letters.

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A recent settlement filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and GoodRx may merit a review of your cyber insurance coverages. Earlier this month, the FTC took enforcement action for the first time under its Health Breach Notification Rule against the telehealth and prescription drug provider, GoodRx, for failing to notify consumers of its unauthorized disclosures of personal health information.

As detailed in a February 27 Hunton client alert, the Health Breach Notification Rule generally requires that vendors not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of personal health records give notice in the event of a “breach of security,” which is defined to include “unauthorized acquisition” of personal health records.

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A review of insurance policies at renewal should be on every business’s annual task list—and it should be checked twice! Just as your business grows and evolves every year, so should your insurance program. Together with staying proactive and preparing for renewal months before the policy expiration, there are a number of best practices to put your business in the best position to maximize insurance recovery, including shopping around, evaluating changes to your business, engaging the appropriate stakeholders, and performing a policy audit with a coverage attorney.

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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.

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A federal court recently found that a policyholder adequately plead that a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars through wire fraud is covered under a commercial crime policy. In Landings, Yacht, Golf, and Tennis Club v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America Case No. 2:22-cv-00459, Landings Yacht, Golf, and Tennis Club (“Landings”) sued Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (“Travelers”) under a crime policy for denying coverage for: (1) about $6,885.79 in unauthorized withdrawals (“First Withdrawal”) from users purporting to be Landings and (2) $575,723.95 in withdrawals made by a third-party purporting to act on behalf of Landings (“Second Withdrawal”).[1]

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If your company has an emergency response plan—and it likely does—filing an insurance claim needs to be included in that plan. But what if your insurer stretches out the consideration process by making continuous, costly information requests without making a coverage determination? Or decides to deny coverage under one clause of the policy, but accept coverage under another? Or outright denies coverage? Policyholders should be prepared to comply with policy obligations (which may vary depending on the controlling state law), such as the sharing of relevant information and documentation or participating in arbitration or a mediation prior to suing the insurer, but also understand the responsibilities insurers have to policyholders when a claim is tendered. 

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Like other policyholders, hard insurance market trends, aggravated by cybersecurity risks, climate change, and COVID-19, have hit higher education policyholders, yielding reduced or limited coverages for increased premiums. These conditions – reduced coverages and higher premiums – are symptoms of a “hard” insurance market. (A hard market is caused by a mismatch between policyholders’ waxing demand for coverage and insurers’ waning risk appetite.) But higher education policyholders face unique risks that exacerbate existing market conditions, including:

Time 4 Minute Read

As businesses continue to increase their reliance on technology, they are bound to face the inevitable risks associated with online transactions and other cyber exposures. This, in turn, emphasizes the importance of having the proper insurance policies and compliance methods in place to prevent or, at least, mitigate losses that ensue from these risks. In this context, many insurance policies require that there be a “direct” loss for there to be coverage, which has spawned numerous lawsuits about what the word “direct” means. The latest court to weigh in has sided with the insured and interpreted that term broadly to essentially mean proximate causation.

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Supply chain disruptions caused by a number of unrelated events – the pandemic, ice storms, wildfires, and droughts – were commonplace in the retail industry in 2021.  Obtaining the correct insurance coverage can help mitigate present and future supply chain risks.  In the recently published Retail Industry 2021 Year In Review, we highlight some key concerns and coverages to look out for.  A copy of the full publication can be found here.
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While COVID-19 dominated the insurance coverage landscape in 2021, it was not the only subject of significant decisions in the insurance space. Directors and Officers coverage (“D&O”) and cyber insurance continued to make headlines while other coverage lines left the industry questioning what is to come in 2022. In our recently published "Year in Review: Top Insurance Cases of 2021," we highlight a few of the most impactful trends and cases in 2021 and look forward to what 2022 may deliver in the world of insurance coverage. A copy of the full publication can be found here
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One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, courts have issued hundreds of rulings in COVID-19 business interruption lawsuits, many favoring insurers. Yet those pro-insurer rulings are not based on evidence, much less expert opinion evidence. For insurers, ignorance is bliss.

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Not surprisingly, COVID-19 business interruption insurance disputes dominated media headlines for most of 2020. Nonetheless, there were a number of other insurance rulings that will undoubtedly shape the coverage landscape. Policyholders enjoyed a number of significant wins including significant victories related to COVID-19 business interruption cases. The start of a new year gives us an opportunity to highlight some of 2020’s most notable coverage decisions. A copy of our recently published Year in Review: Top Insurance Cases of 2020 can be found here
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In March, we reported on the initial filing of several securities class action suits arising from the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). For example, at the start of the pandemic, shareholders of Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings, Ltd. filed a class action alleging that the company and certain officers violated the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. The lawsuit alleged that the cruise line made false and misleading statements about COVID-19 in order to persuade consumers to purchase cruises. This allegedly caused the share prices to be cut in half.

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As the effects of coronavirus continue, organizations and companies now are considering whether events in late 2020 and early 2021 can take place or need to be converted to virtual events.  What insurance effects will those changes and cancellations have? Consideration of these important decisions requires a review of both event-cancellation insurance and a consideration of force majeure and other such issues.

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Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks, protests against systematic racism in general, and police brutality in particular, have swept the globe. These protests have largely been peaceful, but a small, fractious group of individuals has used the protests as cover to incite violence, damage property, and loot businesses. While it might be cold comfort to the affected business owners to hear that property damage is not the norm, most have insurance that protects their pecuniary interest.[1]

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Social engineering attacks, particularly fraudulent transfers, are becoming one of the most utilized cyber scams.  As a result, there has been a flurry of litigation, and a patchwork of decisions, concerning coverage disputes over social engineering losses.  Most recently, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found in Midlothian Enterprises, Inc. v. Owners Insurance Company, that a so-called “voluntary parting” exclusion provision in a crime policy should exclude coverage for a fraudulent transfer social engineering scheme.  The decision illustrates why policyholders must vigilantly analyze their insurance policies to ensure that their coverages keep pace with what has proven to be a rapidly evolving risk landscape.

Time 2 Minute Read

As crypto-asset losses continue to rise, the industry is taking steps to protect clients and investors through insurance. Crypto-exchange and custody provider, Gemini Trust Company, LLC (“Gemini”), recently launched its own captive insurance provider, Nakamoto, Ltd. Captive insurance is an alternative to self-insurance whereby a company creates a licensed insurance company to provide coverage for itself. According to a statement from Gemini, Nakamoto is “the world’s first captive to insure crypto custody” and allows Gemini “to increase its insurance capacity beyond the coverage currently available in the commercial insurance market” for cryptocurrency wallets not connected to the internet, commonly referred to as “cold storage.” According to Gemini, this move makes Nakamoto the world’s most insured crypto-asset cold storage solution, which signals an expectation of increased demand in the crypto market.

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Illinois National Insurance Company, an AIG Commercial Insurance company, (“AIG”) told a Pennsylvania federal court in a brief opposing summary judgment that it has no duty to defend Hub Parking Technology USA Inc. (“Hub”), a Pittsburgh-area parking technology company, in a third-party complaint alleging a privacy breach that exposed customers’ credit card numbers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

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A New York federal court denied AIG Specialty Insurance Company’s (“AIG”) motion to dismiss breach of contract and bad faith claims in a lawsuit filed by SS&C Technology Holdings, Inc. (“SS&C”). SS&C alleges that AIG breached its contract by failing to cover losses stemming from a cyber incident in which hackers duped the company out of millions of dollars.

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Last week, in an exciting moment, the U.S. House of Representatives, voted 321 to 103 in favor of H.R.1595, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (“SAFE Banking Act”). If enacted into law, the SAFE Banking Act, would provide financial institutions, including insurers, a safe harbor to do business with “cannabis-related legitimate businesses” in the United States. In particular, the act would protect insurers, independent agents, and brokers from criminal and civil liability when offering insurance coverage to state-legalized cannabis businesses. The SAFE Banking Act would grant the cannabis business community access to many of the financial services most companies take for granted, like electronic payment processing, employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts and small business loans.

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In Dunn, et al. v. Columbia National Insurance Company, No. 2:17-cv-0246 (N.D. Ga.), an insurance company refused to defend an insured in a personal injury claim contending that the insured failed to cooperate in the defense. The underlying claim stemmed from an automobile accident, where an employee of Lawson Air Conditioning and Plumbing, Inc. (“Lawson”), Ronald Patterson, struck members of the Dunn family with a pickup truck owned by Lawson as the family was walking out of a Walmart store. The Dunn family members suffered bodily injury as a proximate result of the accident.  Patterson admitted fault.

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In the August 2019 publication of Contract Management, Hunton insurance recovery lawyers Walter Andrews, Lorelie Masters, Michael Levine, and Latosha Ellis discuss how a robust insurance program can help government prime contractors mitigate potential financial risks associated with downstream data breaches or releases. In the article, the authors explain government prime contractors’ cybersecurity obligations under DFARS and other federal regulations. A copy of the article is here.

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In a significant win for policyholders, the Ninth Circuit rejected an insurer’s argument that the common meaning of “war” applied when interpreting a war exclusion, instead of the customary usage of the term, pursuant to Cal.  Civ. Code 1644, and revived NBC Universal’s attempt to recover at least $6.9 million in costs incurred to relocate the production of a television show from Jerusalem during the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Universal Cable Prods., et al., LLC v. Atl. Specialty Ins. Co., 2019 WL 3049034, at *10 (9th Cir. July 12, 2019).

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The cancellation of the first day of music mogul Pharrell Williams’s inaugural Something In the Water Music Festival (SITW) in Virginia Beach, Virginia due to stormy weather is a recent reminder of the importance of securing event cancellation and business interruption insurance to mitigate the significant economic risks posed by outdoor events.[1]

Time 3 Minute Read

Notwithstanding the absence of a congressional war declaration since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Zurich American Insurance Company has invoked a “war exclusion” in an attempt to avoid covering Illinois snack food and beverage company Mondelez International Inc.’s expenses stemming from its exposure to the NotPetya virus in 2017. The litigation, Mondelez Intl. Inc. v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., No. 2018-L-11008, 2018 WL 4941760 (Ill. Cir. Ct., Cook Cty., complaint filed Oct. 10, 2018), remains pending in an Illinois state court.

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2018 was a big year for insurance coverage cases, especially those involving social engineering phishing, spoofing and other schemes of trickery and deception.

The insurance recovery lawyers at Hunton Andrews Kurth have compiled their list of the top insurance cases of 2018.  A copy of the Review can be found here.

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Hunton Andrews Kurth insurance partner Michael Levine was recently interviewed by LegalTech News concerning Ohio’s recent adoption of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) Insurance Data Security Model Law. The law, modeled after the New York State Department of Financial Services Cybersecurity Requirements for Financial Service Companies Act, seeks to provide a framework for states to address risks and develop cybersecurity guidelines for insurance companies. Ohio became the second state, after South Carolina, to adopt the model law. As Mike ...

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In the December 2018 edition of Virginia Lawyer Magazine, Hunton Andrews Kurth insurance coverage lawyers Syed S. Ahmad, Patrick M. McDermott, and Latosha M. Ellis discuss the importance of preserving improperly excluded evidence into the trial record for post-trial motions or appellate review. In the article, the authors explain how to make an offer of proof, the value of issue preservation during the motions stage of litigation, and the significance of motions in limine. 

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North Dakota’s highest court delivered a blow to Mid-Continent Casualty Company in Borsheim Builders Supply, Inc. v. Manger Insurance Co., ruling that a contract between a policyholder and general contractor fit the insured contract exception of contractual liability.

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In a victory for policyholders, and an honorable mention for Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the dispersal of concrete dust that damaged inventory stored in an aircraft part distributor’s warehouse was a pollutant, as defined by the policy, but that it also constituted “smoke” as that term was defined in the dictionary, thereby implicating an exception to the policy’s pollution exclusion.  The Court then granted summary judgment for the policyholder, who had suffered a $3.2 million loss.[1]

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