• Posts by Lorelie S. Masters
    Posts by Lorelie S. Masters
    Partner

    A nationally recognized insurance coverage litigator, Lorie handles all aspects of complex, commercial litigation and arbitration for policyholders. Chambers-ranked and recognized as a “top 10 Super Lawyer,” Lorie has ...

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This series addresses whether your company should consider protecting its products under the SAFETY Act, which serves as a governmental seal of quality and offers powerful litigation and liability benefits.  Part I of this series addressed the benefits of obtaining SAFETY Act coverage.  This post explains the levels of protection under the SAFETY Act and how your company should evaluate whether its products may be eligible.

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The SAFETY Act is a highly effective risk management tool created to incentivize the development of anti-terrorism technologies—broadly defined—and to provide protections to providers of products and services meant to prevent or mitigate physical and cyber-attacks.  Among other benefits, companies receiving SAFETY Act coverage for their technologies have their potentially liability associated with an act of terrorism capped at the amount of insurance coverage required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).  Companies seeking to reduce their exposure to liability associated with cyber or physical attacks should consider applying for designation or certification under the SAFETY Act.  DHS has also approved a wide variety of other technologies and security programs for protection under the SAFETY Act. 

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Companies face significant exposure from privacy related claims. An increasing number of these claims result from efforts at the state level to regulate use of personal data. One key focus is Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”), but as lawmakers in other states continue to introduce legislation aimed at regulating the use of biometric data, more court decisions may muddy the waters regarding what conduct may be covered under a general liability policy.

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On September 26, 2023, KPMG published independent research showing that three-quarters of global businesses feel they are not ready for new ESG reporting regulations. KPMG’s findings are the latest reminder to businesses—and their directors and officers and other insureds—about the important role that Directors & Officers (D&O) insurance can play as businesses and organizations strive for ESG compliance and work to mitigate ESG-related risks.

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As previewed in part 1 of our AI Policyholder’s Guide, we now discuss how businesses can assess their AI risk to ensure that they are properly positioned to secure insurance coverage should those risks come to fruition. Because no two businesses will have the same AI risk profile, businesses should consider undertaking organization-wide AI risk audits to evaluate their unique AI risk profile.

Understanding the nature of AI-focused legal risk is not only important for business planning, but essential to crafting a comprehensive AI-specific risk management plan. Indeed, because insurance is often underwritten relative to specific risks, knowing the risks to be insured is a prerequisite to procuring the right type of coverage with terms most suitable to a given risk profile.

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The Eleventh Circuit recently confirmed the rule that “other insurance” clauses should not be used to disadvantage policyholders. Nat’l Cas. Co. v. Georgia Sch. Bd. Ass’n - Risk Mgmt. Fund, No. 22-13779, 2023 WL 5977299, at *1 (11th Cir. Sept. 14, 2023). In a dispute between an insurance company and a public risk management fund, both insurance policies included “other insurance” clauses stating that each insurer would only provide excess insurance coverage where the policyholder is covered by other insurance. The district court found that the clauses were irreconcilable because both insurance policies could not provide only excess insurance coverage—at least one policy would need to provide primary coverage. Because of the conflict, the Georgia federal district court applied Georgia’s irreconcilable-clauses rule and held that each policy must provide coverage to the policyholder on a pro rata basis. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s application of Georgia’s irreconcilable-clauses rule.

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the way businesses operate, from the way we research and write, to the way data is processed, to the way inventory is measured and distributed, to the way employees are monitored and beyond. Soon, artificial intelligence might be providing life advice, saving hospital patients or accelerating the development of cities. It is already reshaping corporate America. Very few, if any, industries—including the insurance industry—are immune. As the consultancy McKinsey wrote in 2021, artificial intelligence “will have a seismic impact on all aspects of the insurance industry.” McKinsey’s prediction has proved prescient.

As AI continues to influence the insurance industry and the broader economy, new opportunities and risks abound for policyholders. It is therefore essential for policyholders to keep up-to-date about insurance law’s latest frontier. To help policyholders navigate this new frontier, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP’s insurance recovery team is introducing a new resource: The Hunton Policyholder’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence.

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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. 

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While liability for PFAS—Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, also known as “forever chemicals”—may be an emerging issue, the availability of insurance coverage for these and similar liability claims is not. “Commercial general liability,” or CGL, insurance was specifically designed to cover claims made by a company’s customers or customers of customers for resulting bodily injury and property damage. PFAS claims fit this bill. 

Though insurance companies have attempted to deflect from this intentionally broad coverage, CGL exclusions traditionally have been narrow. Even “pollution exclusions,” which have been raised by insurers facing PFAS claims, have limited scope. PFAS are products; and, thus, when drafting pollution exclusions, the insurance industry represented to regulators that they should apply only when (1) insurers can prove the policyholder expected or intended the alleged injuries and (2) only to true “industrial” pollution. 

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Hunton’s insurance team has offered its support on behalf of amicus curie United Policyholders in a brief to the First Circuit concerning the meaning of “surface water” in the context of a broad, all-risk property insurance policy?

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Update: On May 1, 2023, the New Jersey appeals court affirmed the trial court's decision that a war exclusion did not bar $1.4 billion in coverage for Merck’s losses stemming from the NotPetya attack.

On June 27, 2017, the skies over New Jersey were clear and the ground steady. But Merck & Co., a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company, was under attack. Malware ripped through its computers, damaging 40,000 of them and causing over $1.4 billion in losses.

Merck was not the sole target.[1] Dubbed “NotPetya,” the virus tore through the US economy,[2] and did an estimated $10 billion in damage. The US Department of Justice charged six Russian nationals, alleged officers of Russia’s Intelligence Directorate (the GRU), for their roles in the NotPetya attack, among others. The attackers’ goal, according to the DOJ, was:

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In First Mercury Insurance Co. v. First Florida Building Corp., et al., a federal district court ordered that an insurer had a duty to defend its insured against an underlying personal injury lawsuit. 2023 WL 23116, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 3, 2023). First Mercury is a cautionary tale about how insurers may try to circumvent their obligations by improperly considering extrinsic evidence when determining whether they have a duty to defend their insureds.

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In Yahoo, Inc. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA., the California Supreme Court confirmed that contra proferentem and other rules of policy interpretation apply even to language insurers argue is “manuscript” as long as the provisions in question use standard-form policy terms. There, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to answer a certified question regarding whether a commercial general liability policy (CGL) covers defense costs related to claims under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) (47 U.S.C. § 227). Following a thorough and thoughtful assessment of California law involving fundamental rules of policy interpretation, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the policyholder, Yahoo, Inc. (“Yahoo!”). The authors of this article represented amicus curiae, United Policyholders, in support of Yahoo! before the California Supreme Court. 

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In Sherwin-Williams Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London, et al., the Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Eighth District reversed the lower court, finding that money paid by the insured into an abatement fund was “damages” as that undefined term was used in the policyholder’s insurance policies. 2022-Ohio-3031, ¶ 1. Sherwin-Williams is a cautionary tale about how insurers may try to narrow the meaning of undefined terms in their insurance policies.

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

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

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An oft-seen version of the insuring agreement in Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies provides that the insurance company will pay for “any and all sums” the policyholder is “legally obligated to pay” for liabilities “imposed by law” or “assumed under contract.”  In an effort to disclaim coverage for liabilities arising out of or related to contract, insurers have argued that the prong for liabilities “imposed by law” refers to tort-based liabilities only, thus seeking to avoid liability with a relationship to contract.  This argument, however, defies the plain insuring language defining how the CGL policies are triggered.  This post explains why, under a proper reading of the insuring language, contract-based liabilities should qualify under the “imposed by law” prong of a CGL insuring agreement.

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With the circumstances in Ukraine intensifying and companies either shutting down or suspending operations in the region, the question arises about whether the sparingly used war exclusion will become more relevant as policyholders seek to recover losses. Economic effects of the conflict are spreading. Some companies may have to close operations entirely, some partially, and others may have their supply chains severely disrupted. The US government has warned companies to protect themselves against cyberattacks. The impact on policyholders, however, may take different forms, potentially implicating their business interruption, contingent business interruption, cyber, shipping and cargo, and political risk insurance coverages. Other coverages could be implicated as well.

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In this post in the Blog’s Landmark Montana Supreme Court Decision Series, we discuss the court’s ruling on the pollution exclusion in National Indemnity Co. v. State, 499 P.3d 516 (Mont. 2021).

The exclusion at issue was the standard qualified pollution exclusion used in some CGL policies in the mid-1970s. It excluded coverage for:

bodily injury or property damage arising out of the discharge, dispersal, release or escape of smoke, vapors, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, toxic chemicals, liquids or gases, waste materials or other irritants, contaminants or pollutants into or upon land, the atmosphere or any water course or body of water; but this exclusion does not apply if such discharge, dispersal, release or escape is sudden and accidental.

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In one of the top insurance-coverage decisions of 2021, the Montana Supreme Court at the end of the year handed down a landmark decision adopting the continuous trigger of coverage and “all sums” allocation, finding a duty to defend and ruling that the qualified, or “sudden and accidental” pollution exclusion did not apply. Nat’l Indem. Co. v. State, 499 P.3d 516 (Mont. 2021). The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reserved in part the rulings entered by the trial court, largely upholding a $98,000,000 judgment for the State against its CGL insurer for the policy years 1973 to 1975. The ruling thus helps ensure coverage for the hundreds of claims alleging that the State had failed to warn claimants of the dangers of asbestos exposures to workers in vermiculite mining and milling operations in Libby, Montana, operated by W. R. Grace (the “Libby Mine”).

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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.

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An Ohio appellate court held last month that a cyberattack triggered coverage under a commercial property insurance policy in the case EMOI Services, LLC v. Owners Insurance Company, No. 29128, 2021 WL 5144828 (Ohio Ct. App. Nov. 5, 2021).  This is good news for policyholders in light of widespread cyberattacks over the last two years, and rising premiums in today’s cyber insurance markets. The decision also has wider implications, including in suits seeking coverage for losses caused by COVID-19 under property insurance policies.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Effective April 1, 2021, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP has promoted insurance recovery lawyer, Andi DeField, and six other attorneys, to partner.  “Andi has been a superstar in our practice since the day she arrived,” said insurance recovery practice head, Walter Andrews, adding that “Andi’s promotion reflects the incredible hard work she has contributed to the practice and outstanding results she has achieved for our clients over the years.”  A native of Miami, Andi ascended through the ranks at Hunton in its Miami office, joining the firm as a contract lawyer before earning ...
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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 California state court denied an insurer’s motion to dismiss Goodwill Industries of Orange County’s COVID-19 business-interruption claim after an apparent reassessment of how California’s federal courts have applied (or, rather, misapplied) California precedent to COVID-19 cases. The case is Goodwill Industries of Orange County, California v. Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co., No. 30-2020-01169032-CU-IC-CXC (Cal. Super. Ct. Jan. 28, 2021).

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

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As we explained in our earlier post, in a decision that could influence how policyholders and insurers around the world address business-interruption coverage for COVID-19 losses, the London High Court recently handed down its much-anticipated judgment in the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Test Case,” The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) v. Arch et al.  Because the judgment provided that coverage was available for COVID-19 business-interruption losses under most of the policy wordings at issue, it was highly anticipated that the insurance companies at issue would challenge the judgment in a fast-tracked “leapfrog” appeal to the Supreme Court of the U.K., expected to be heard by the end of the year.  Yesterday, however, six of the insurance companies subject to the judgment decided not to pursue an appeal in connection with some of the policies, and one of the insurers stated that it would instead begin to make payments where appropriate.

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In another win for policyholders, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida on September 24, 2020 denied Sentinel Insurance Company’s motion to dismiss the policyholder doctor office’s claim for COVID-19 related business interruption coverage.  Urogynecology Specialist of Florida LLC v. Sentinel  Insurance Company Ltd., Case No.: 6:20-cv-1174-Orl-22EJK (M.D. Fla. Sept. 25, 2020). The court engaged in a true analysis of the policy’s virus exclusion language, finding that the insurer had not met its burden of showing that its proposed reading of the exclusionary language is the only reasonable interpretation.

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A Pennsylvania trial court denied an insurer’s early attempt to lunge out of coverage for COVID-19 business interruption losses suffered by a fitness center, stating it would be premature for the court to resolve factual determinations the insurer raised in its demurrer. Ridley Park Fitness, LLC v. Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co., No. 200501093 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Aug. 13, 2020).

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In a decision that will influence how policyholders and insurers around the world address business-interruption coverage for COVID-19 losses, the English High Court recently handed down its much-anticipated judgment in the “Test Case,” The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) v. Arch et al. The High Court’s comprehensive analysis will likely serve as an additional tool in policyholders’ arsenal in the ongoing battles over COVID-19 coverage.

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To follow up on our post yesterday, an English court ruled in the test case regarding coverage of business-interruption losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will follow up with a post addressing the particulars of the 160-page decision.

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On Tuesday, the English High Court will issue its much-anticipated ruling in “test cases” for coverage of business-interruption losses during the COVID-19 pandemic under sample policy wordings. Irrespective of the outcome, the London court’s ruling promises to be a significant development for the insurance markets in the UK, as billions of pounds in potential insurance claims are at stake and––beyond this––policyholders and/or insurance companies can be expected to argue that one or another of the findings supports their position(s) for interpreting similar policy language in future COVID-19 business-interruption coverage cases.

The FCA Test Case

In the first action of its kind since the agency was established in 2013, the British markets regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), engineered the test case process earlier this year to seek legal clarity over insurance companies’ obligations to cover business-interruption claims in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Brought before the English High Court (a trial level court in the UK), the FCA test case involves around 370,000 policyholders and eight insurance companies. The case was heard by Judge Christopher Butcher, who sits in the Commercial Court, and Judge Julian Flaux from the Court of Appeal.  Experienced English counsel prepared and presented arguments to the tribunal for expedited consideration and resolution. The FCA hired a solicitor firm, which instructed well-regarded barristers from Devereux Chambers and Fountain Court Chambers; the insurers engaged their own solicitors and barristers.

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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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Trading on New Zealand’s stock exchange was disrupted last week, following four straight days of repeated cyberattacks that resulted in outages affecting debt, equities, and derivatives markets.  The DDoS attack, which is said to have originated offshore, is allegedly part of a global extortion scheme that has also targeted companies like PayPal and Venmo.  With this type of cyberattack becoming only more common and sophisticated, it is vital for policyholders to focus on the host of available insurance coverage options to protect against and maximize their insurance recovery following losses from a cyberattack.

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In a victory for policyholders, a federal district court found that COVID-19 can cause physical loss under business-interruption policies. In Studio 417, Inc., et al. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co., No. 20-cv-03127-SRB (W.D. Mo. Aug. 12, 2020), the court rejected the argument often advanced by insurers that “all-risks” property insurance policies require a physical, structural alteration to trigger coverage. This decision shows that, with correct application of policy-interpretation principles and strategic use of pleading and evidence, policyholders can defeat the insurance industry’s “party line” arguments that business-interruption insurance somehow cannot apply to pay for the unprecedented losses businesses are experiencing from COVID-19, public-safety orders, loss of use of business assets, and other governmental edicts.

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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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The Ohio Court of Appeals on June 24 enforced liability insurance for a company that had distributed opiates, finding that the insured had a duty to defend the insured in lawsuits filed by government agencies and pending in the Opioid Multidistrict Litigation.  Acuity v. Masters Pharm., No. C-190176 (Ohio Ct. App. June 24, 2020).  A unanimous three-judge panel overturned a trial court decision that had accepted arguments of insurers that, because the underlying suits were brought by government entities seeking to recover for “their own economic loss,” the damages sought did not qualify as “damages because of or for a ‘bodily injury.’” Relying on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. H.D. Smith, L.L.C., 829 F.3d 771 (7th Cir. 2016), the Court of Appeals acknowledged that “[t]he governmental entities are seeking their own economic losses,” but concluded that some losses at issue “(such as medical expenses and treatment costs) are arguably ‘because of’ bodily injury,” bringing policyholder claims “potentially within the policies’ coverage.”  Slip op. ¶ 30.  The trial court thus had erred in finding that the insurer had no duty to defend in the underlying opioid cases.

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A North Carolina court recently ruled in favor of all sums allocation. Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC v. AG Insurance SA/NV, No. 17 CVS 5594 (N.C. Sup. Ct.). In that case, Duke Energy is seeking coverage for “liabilities linked to coal combustion residuals (‘CCRs’), i.e., coal ash, at fifteen Duke-owned power plants in North and South Carolina.” In a recent summary judgment decision, the court resolved a dispute between Duke and TIG Insurance Company, as successor to Ranger Insurance Company, about whether all sums allocation or pro rata allocation applied.

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Following New Jersey, where similar legislation remains under informal discussion, lawmakers in Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York have now introduced legislation that would provide relief to small businesses for COVID-19 business interruption losses.  The legislation is conceptually identical to the legislation introduced in New Jersey, discussed here last week.  Although the New Jersey bill was subsequently pulled for further consideration with insurance industry representatives, it does appear to have been the roadmap for the Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York measures.  ...

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Following on the heels of the directive issued to business-interruption eruption, insurers by the New York Department of Financial Services, Ricardo Lara, the Insurance Commissioner for the State of California, issued a “request for information,” about business interruption and related coverages so that the State can address “public policy options” and “understand the number and scope of business interruption type coverages in effect” in California and “the approximate number of [such] policies that exclude viruses such as COVID-19.”

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A Houston-area wig store filed the first Texas COVID-19 lawsuit concerning business interruption losses Thursday in a state court in Harris County. The plaintiff, Barbara Lane Snowden DBA Hair Goals Club, filed suit, a copy of which can be found here, against Twin City Fire Insurance Company, a Hartford Insurance company. The lawsuit alleges that plaintiff has sustained and will continue to sustain covered losses during the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent Harris County Stay Home Order. The lawsuit further alleges that plaintiff already sought coverage for its business interruption costs under the Twin City policy, but that claim was denied. Accordingly, plaintiff has alleged breach of contract, unfair settlement practices, violation of the Prompt Pay Act, and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing for Twin City’s wrongful denial of the claim.

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Last week, we reported that the New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill that would force property insurers to cover certain business interruption losses arising from COVID-19.  The bill presented a lifeline to small businesses in New Jersey that are being racked by the economic fallout stemming from COVID-19.  Before reaching the New Jersey Senate, however, the bill was pulled from consideration with little explanation.  The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-16th District, reportedly stated that, in lieu of the legislation, insurers would be given the opportunity to ...

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On March 16, 2020, the New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill that would force property insurers to cover business interruption losses arising from the COVID-19 virus sustained by small businesses (less than 100 employees working more than 25 hours a week); a copy of the bill can be found here.  Significantly, the bill would force coverage even where the insurer believes its policy should not apply.  In particular, the bill provides that property policies in effect as of March 9, 2020, will be construed as providing “coverage for business interruption due to global virus transmission or pandemic,” including COVID-19.  As written, the law would defeat any attempt by insurers to rely on exclusions that purport to preclude coverage for business income loss resulting from viruses, including the much-touted ISO CP 01 40 07 06 Virus or Bacteria Exclusion that insurer-side advocates have been championing as a purported bar to COVID-19 losses.  The bill would provide much-needed relief to the New Jersey policyholders that are enduring the worst of COVID-19’s economic impact with the least ability to withstand it.

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In what may be entirely unprecedented, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS), the insurance regulatory body for insurers operating in New York, has ordered that all property and casualty insurers authorized to issue policies in New York to provide details on the business interruption coverage provided in the types of policies for which it has ongoing exposure for COVID-19 related losses.  A copy of the NYDFS March 10, 2020 Order (Order) can be found here.

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As previously reported on the Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives Blog, workers’ compensation provides the exclusive remedy for injuries and illness that employees suffer arising out of and within the course of their employment.   Workers’ compensation provides the exclusive remedy for injuries and illness that employees suffer arising out of and within the course of their employment.  In the early stages of this pandemic, work-related travel to high impact countries or work-related exposure in a case that was being tracked by public health authorities provided support for work-related exposure.  In healthcare settings, work-related exposure will likely be established when exposure to infected patients occurs.  But in other settings and as the diseases spreads in the United States, the analysis about whether an illness is covered by workers’ compensation will be more difficult.

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On Monday, Oceana Grill, a restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana, became the first to file a lawsuit over coverage for COVID-19 business interruption losses.  The lawsuit, styled Cajun Conti, LLC, et al. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, et al. (La. Dist. Court, Orleans Parish), seeks a declaratory judgment that an “all risks” property insurance policy issued by Lloyd’s of London must cover losses resulting from the closure of the restaurant following an order by the Governor of Louisiana restricting public gatherings and the Mayor of New Orleans’ order closing restaurants.

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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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Timing is everything. Just as conference season is getting into full swing, COVID-19 has lashed out in force. In the past 24 hours alone, we have received numerous calls from clients about annual meetings, trade shows and speaking engagements they have been compelled to cancel, all on short notice, due to the novel coronavirus.

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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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Claims stemming from the manufacture, sale, distribution and prescription of opioid products continue to proliferate, fueling opioid liability as an historic mass tort.  Claims asserted in lawsuits brought by state and local governments include allegations of negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of consumer protection statutes, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, antitrust violations, and claims for medical monitoring and injunctive relief, among others.  In December 2017, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the consolidation of approximately 200 then pending opioid related cases into a multidistrict litigation before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, styled In Re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation (MDL No. 2804) (the “MDL”). It was recently reported that two pharmacy chains involved in the opioid MDL are suing 500 physicians alleging it is the doctors, not the pharmacists, who are to blame for faulty prescriptions.  At the end of last week, the judge handling the MDL allowed claims against opioid companies by union benefit plans to proceed, concluding that the plans’ claims of harm differed from the injuries to health and safety suffered by the public at large.

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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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A federal court in Illinois ruled recently, in Cincinnati Insurance Company v. H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Company, that Cincinnati Insurance Company was required to indemnify H.D. Smith for a $3.5 million settlement it reached with the State of West Virginia.  The settlement resolved an action in which West Virginia alleged that H.D. Smith contributed to the state’s opioid addiction epidemic through its negligent distribution of opioid prescription drugs.

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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 who provide “late notice” may proceed with their insurance claim, absent a showing by the insurer of substantial prejudice. The California Supreme Court also extended the prejudice ...

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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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Phishing has been around for decades.  But now, the long-lost ancestor claiming to be a foreign prince is stealing more than your grandmother’s savings.  Phishers are targeting corporations—small and big, private and public—stealing sensitive data and money.  When Policyholders take the bait, they had better have a tailored insurance policy to keep their insurers on the hook as well.

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The City of Baltimore is the latest victim of increasingly common ransomware attacks. On May 7, 2019, unidentified hackers infiltrated Baltimore’s computer system using a cyber-tool named EternalBlue, developed originally by the United States National Security Agency to identify vulnerabilities in computer systems. However, the NSA lost control of EternalBlue, and since 2017, cybercriminals have used it to infiltrate computer systems and demand payment in exchange for relinquishing control. For instance, in Baltimore, the hackers have frozen the City’s e-mail system and disrupted real estate transactions and utility billing systems, among many other things. The hackers reportedly demanded roughly $100,000 in Bitcoin to restore Baltimore’s system. The city has refused to pay.

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The May 13, 2019 decision by the US Supreme Court in Apple, Inc. v. Pepper has brought antitrust concerns, and the insurance issues they raise, front and center.  While Apple, Inc., of course, is a publicly traded company, private companies can also fall victim to these issues and need to look to coverage for protection.  For a discussion of these issues, we repost the article by Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP partner Lorie Masters, insurance broker Marsh and others, which analyzes these often complex issues.  “Optimizing Antitrust Coverage in Private Company D&O Policies,” published by ...

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Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology (“DLT”), is already proving to be a game-changer for businesses globally and across sectors. But is it secure? And can insurance help protect against risks and, thus, help advance the development of this technology?

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In a victory for policyholders, a recent decision from the Western District of Texas narrowly construed a common breach-of-contract exclusion and held that the insurer had a duty to defend its insured against an underlying lawsuit over construction defects. The allegations potentially supported a covered claim, as the conduct of the insured’s subcontractor could have been an independent, “but for” cause of the property damage at issue, thereby triggering the insurer’s duty to defend.

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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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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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May 25, 2018 should be a day circled on many company calendars. On that day, the European Union’s long-awaited Global Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) will go into effect.  It is crucial for U.S. companies to prepare for the GDPR, as they, too, will be required to comply with a new set of data privacy rules if they are handling data from EU-based customers, suppliers, or affiliates. As long as you collect personal or behavioral data from someone in the EU, you must comply with the GDPR.

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On April 20, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed an Alabama district court decision finding that an “absolute pollution exclusion” did not bar coverage for environmental property damage and injuries from a sewage leak. Evanston Ins. Co. v. J&J Cable Constr., LLC, No. 17-11188, 2018 WL 1887459, (11th Cir. Apr. 20, 2018).

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Two recent decisions addressing allocation of long-tail liabilities demonstrate that resolution of the issue under New York law depends upon the policy language at issue. Judge-made rules on “equity” and “fairness” do not control.  As the New York Court of Appeals held on March 27, 2018, in Keyspan Gas East Corp. v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., 2018 WL 1472635 (2018), under New York law, “the method of allocation is covered for most by the particular language of the relevant insurance policy.” Both Keyspan and the April 2, 2018 decision in Hopeman Brothers, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Co., No. 16-cv-00187 (E.D. Va. Apr. 2, 2018), by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, illustrate the importance of reviewing insurance policies - both before purchase, to ensure that they contain optimal language for coverage; and after claims arise, to ensure that the policyholder receives the benefit of insurance coverage under “legacy” and all other potentially applicable policies.

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In this final post in our Hunton & Williams Bermuda Form Arbitration Series, we discuss case law involving the Bermuda Form.  As explained in a prior post, the Bermuda Form includes an arbitration clause specifying that disputes be submitted to arbitration in London under the English Arbitration Act, but applying the substantive law of New York. The natural consequence of this arbitration provision is that reported decisions analyzing the substantive provisions of the Bermuda Form are few and far between.  Little binding precedent has developed—or will develop—regarding interpretation of the Bermuda Form given that awards are issued in confidential arbitration proceedings.  Nonetheless, several decisions in England and the United States offer insight into the handling and resolution of disputes involving Bermuda Form policies.

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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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As explained in a prior post in the Blog’s Bermuda Form Arbitration Series, some time after the final hearing, the arbitration tribunal will issue an Award. This post focuses on challenges to and enforcement of that Award.

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A prior post in the Blog’s Bermuda Form Arbitration Series discussed several strategic considerations for the discovery and briefing stages of Bermuda Form arbitrations. This post focuses on the final stages of arbitration: The final hearing, and awards of interest and costs.

*                      *                      *

The Final Hearing

The presentation of evidence in the “final hearing” of a London arbitration differs substantially from traditional trial practice in the United States. A party’s direct or affirmative evidence is presented in writing in witness statements. Witnesses are presented live only for cross-examination. A party should offer all its witnesses for cross-examination; if a party does not do so, it risks that the arbitrators will not give a witness’s direct evidence much weight. This rule does not apply if the parties agree that a witness need not be presented for cross-examination.

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A prior post in the Blog’s Bermuda Form Arbitration Series discussed several strategic considerations for London arbitrations involving the Bermuda Form, including considerations for initiating the arbitration, selection of arbitrators, and selection of counsel. This post focuses on strategic considerations for the discovery and briefing stages of London arbitrations.

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In this post in the Blog’s Bermuda Form Insurance Arbitration Series, we discuss the use of London-based arbitration to resolve disputes involving the Bermuda Form.

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In this post in the Blog’s Bermuda Form Insurance Arbitration Series, we discuss additional features of the Bermuda Form that policyholders should take into consideration.

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In this post in the Blog’s Bermuda Form Insurance Arbitration Series, we discuss some key features of the Bermuda Form that policyholders should take into consideration.

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The commercial insurance programs of many multi-national and United States businesses include “Bermuda Form” policies, a special policy form developed in Bermuda in the mid-1980s that includes unique provisions and provides for arbitration of disputes, usually in London under the substantive law of New York. These provisions provide challenges for United States policyholders and “stack the deck” in favor of the insurance companies that are repeat players in “Bermuda Form arbitrations.”   Policyholders should carefully consider purchase of Bermuda Form policies and ensure that they are structured as favorably as possible for the policyholder.  Presentation of claims under Bermuda Form policies can present special challenges.  Therefore, if claims arise, policyholders should consult counsel with expertise with Bermuda Form policies to ensure that the claim is presented with an eye toward the unique definition of “occurrence” and other provisions included in Bermuda Form policies.

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A Missouri appellate panel recently upheld a lower court's ruling in favor of the insured that an "all-sums" allocation would apply to determining exhaustion of the insured's liability insurance coverage and, in so holding, rejected the pro-rata, proportional allocation sought by the insurers. The appellate panel further held that coverage could be exhausted vertically.

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In MF Global Holdings Ltd. et al. v. Allied World Assurance Co. Ltd. et al., No. 1:16-ap-01251 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2017), the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York ordered MF Global Holdings Ltd. and Allied World Assurance Co. Ltd. to arbitrate their $15 million errors-and-omissions coverage dispute in Hamilton, Bermuda. MF Global initiated an adversary proceeding against Allied World in the bankruptcy court after Allied World had refused to pay MF Global for amounts that MF Global returned to its customers' accounts as part of a settlement of claims against MF Global's former managers and directors. Allied World denied coverage under its "Bermuda Form" errors-and-omissions policy, claiming that this procedure was tantamount to deposit insurance, and not professional liability insurance, which is what errors-and-omissions coverage typically provides.

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In a prior blog post, we discussed Kanye West's touring company's, Very Good Touring, Inc. ("Very Good"), lawsuit against its insurer, Lloyd's of London ("Lloyd's"), for withholding almost $10 million in coverage after the cancellation of shows on West's "Life of Pablo" Tour. On Tuesday, August 29, 2017, Lloyd's responded by counterclaiming against Very Good and West, alleging that the loss was due to their failure to abide by policy conditions.

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It has been almost a week since Hurricane Harvey came barreling down the Texas coastline as a Category-4 storm. Since that time, parts of Texas and Louisiana have been inundated with flood waters as Harvey continues to wreak havoc. Despite the fact that many of those affected have been unable to reach their homes or business to fully assess the damage because of road closures and flood waters, insureds whose businesses or homes were in the storm’s path should notify their insurers in writing now. The initial written notice should include the following information:

  • Name and contact information for the insured;
  • The location of the loss;
  • The date and time of the loss (to the extent known); and
  • A brief description of the loss.
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Earlier this month, the Washington Supreme Court reaffirmed coverage for injuries for carbon monoxide, holding that an insurer acted in bad faith when it improperly relied on an absolute pollution exclusion to deny coverage for a lawsuit involving alleged release of carbon monoxide gas inside a home.

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Following a game-ending ankle sprain in Monday night’s loss to the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. ("OBJ") announced that he is considering the purchase of a $100 million insurance policy to protect against future injury. The protection does not come cheap – with premium around $600,000, according to a recent news account.  Nevertheless, OBJ apparently is considering the insurance in the event he cannot come to terms with the Giants on a new long-term contract.

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Hollywood is not off to a great start for the month of August. Kanye West's touring company, Very Good Touring, Inc. ("Very Good"), sued insurance company Lloyd's of London ("Lloyd's") on Tuesday in California federal court for withholding almost $10 million in coverage for the shows on West's "Life of Pablo" Tour that were canceled due to West's health condition. In Very Good Touring, Inc. v. Cathedral Syndicate, et al., No. 2:17-cv-05693 (C.D. Cal. filed Aug. 1, 2017), the touring company characterized Lloyd's delay in providing a coverage opinion as "emblematic of a broader modus operandi of the insurers of never-ending post-claim underwriting where the insurers hunt for some contrived excuse not to pay."

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