Posts in Business Interruption.
Time 7 Minute Read

The Washington Supreme Court’s recent en banc decision in Pacific Lutheran University et al. v. Certain Underwriters At Lloyd’s London et al. looked to the broad language of the forum selection clause in the governing insurance policies in upholding the policyholders’ rights to select the forum for their coverage suit.

In Pacific Lutheran, 60 higher education institutions (the “Colleges”) filed suit in the Superior Court for Pierce County, Washington, against 16 insurers (the “Insurers”) that issued all risk insurance policies to the Colleges through the Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators Inc. (“EIIA”), a risk retention group.  The Colleges brought suit to recover losses incurred as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Colleges selected the Washington state court based on the forum selection provisions contained in their insurance policies.  In particular, the Colleges relied on the policies’ “suit against the company” clause, which expressly allowed the Colleges to file suit “in any court of competent jurisdiction.”  The suit sought breach of contract damages and a declaration that the Colleges’ COVID-related losses are covered under the policies. 

Time 4 Minute Read

A Washington state court in The Board of Regents of the University of Washington v. Employers Insurance Company of Wausau, No. 22-2-15472-1, recently held that the University of Washington has made a plausible claim for coverage for losses sustained as the result of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic under Washington’s “loss of functionality” test.

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Hurricane Idalia is rapidly approaching the west coast of Florida, expected to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane this morning. While the exact track is still being determined, the storm will leave a path of serious damage in its wake. Now is the time to activate your disaster plan and ensure you have your relevant insurance policies in your possession and that you’ve reviewed critical deadlines. 

The Hunton Insurance Coverage team has put together a webpage of complimentary resources here for you and your company as you prepare to weather the storm, with tips to help your business ...

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As Hawaii deals with the tragic aftermath of recent wildfires that have claimed more than 100 lives and more than 2,000 buildings in Maui, the potential economic fallout is just beginning to take shape. Some experts predict the losses related to the wildfires could result in the biggest disaster-related insurance payout in Hawaii’s history, with property damage alone surpassing $3.2 billion. This post explains the types of losses that usually follow wildfires and the insurance coverages that can respond to such losses. We also offer tips for homeowners and businesses to maximize their insurance recovery in the event of a catastrophic wildfire loss.

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Extreme weather events—such as heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes—may create major protection gaps for insureds. In California, rising temperatures and massive heat waves have led the California Department of Insurance (the “Department”) to rethink risk solutions and insurance programs that protect the state’s communities from the risks associated with extreme heat. While the Department’s proposed solution applies only to coverage for local governments, Tribes, and public health agencies, it is a “hot” topic among many Californians, as insurance professionals and policyholders debate the Department’s proposed approval of parametric insurance.

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The surge in prices for eggs—the fourth most-purchased US grocery item—over the past months has surprised many American shoppers.  Last December, a dozen eggs cost $4.25 on average; 120% higher than at the same time in 2021.  The price hike stems from many factors, including supply chain issues and inflation.  But the primary culprit is the outbreak of the deadliest bird flu in US history, which has killed millions of chickens.  Grocery shoppers, however, are not the only ones feeling the economic impact of the ravage to poultry flocks.  Livestock owners and businesses are also feeling the economic pinch, particularly in areas hit hardest by the bird flu.  Insurance is a key component of risk management for livestock businesses and owners.  Here, we explore how insurance can mitigate the risks to livestock owners and businesses of accidental or unexpected events that result in the death of animals or economic losses.

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On February 6, 2023, The Claims Journal highlighted a letter by members of Hunton’s insurance team, submitted on behalf of United Policyholders, to the California Supreme Court, which alerts the Court to the fundamental infirmities in the “standard” expounded by the insurance industry in COVID-19 business interruption litigations nationwide. The letter was issued to assist the Court in addressing a question certified from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Another Planet Entertainment, LLC v. Vigilant Insurance Co, asking whether the actual or potential presence of the COVID-19 virus on an insured’s premises “constitute direct physical loss or damage to property” for purposes of coverage under a commercial property insurance policy.

Time 4 Minute Read

Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in EMOI Services, L.L.C. v. Owners Ins. Co., 2022 WL 17905839 (Ohio, Dec. 27, 2022), that a policyholder did not suffer direct physical loss of or damage to computer media that was encrypted and rendered unusable.  The Court reached its ruling even though “media” was defined in the policy to include “computer software,” concluding that software does not have a “physical existence.” The Supreme Court’s decision reverses an Ohio appellate court’s earlier ruling that the cyberattack triggered coverage under a commercial property insurance policy and builds upon plainly distinguishable rulings in COVID-19 business interruption cases, such as Santo’s Italian Café, L.L.C. v. Acuity Ins. Co., 15 F.4th 398, 402 (6th Cir. 2021), where the Sixth Circuit found that government orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic did not physically alter insured property.

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The Insurance Coverage Law Center has published an article in which Hunton insurance recovery partner, Michael Levine, exposes evidence of insurance company sins unearthed in the COVID-19 business interruption insurance litigation battleground.  The article discusses evidence obtained from four of the largest property and business income insurers, which tends to prove that long before COVID-19, each understood virus and communicable disease to pose a risk of physical loss or damage sufficient to trigger coverage under their respective all-risk insurance products.  A copy of ...

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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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The Hunton insurance recovery team recently offered support in a matter of great importance to Maryland policyholders. The case is pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals on a question certified from a Maryland federal court in a COVID-19 business interruption insurance lawsuit brought by clothing manufacturer, Tapestry, Inc. Tapestry, the parent of luxury brands Coach, Kate Spade New York, and Stuart Weitzman, is suing its all-risk insurer, Factory Mutual, seeking recovery of millions of dollars lost due to the physical impact of COVID-19 on Tapestry’s retail stores and ...

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Hurricane Ian is rapidly approaching the west coast of Florida and is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near the Tampa area within the coming days. While the exact track is still being determined, there is a chance the storm may also impact insureds in Georgia and South Carolina. Now is the time to activate your disaster plan and ensure that you have your relevant insurance policies in your possession and that you review them for critical deadlines. 

We put together an alert here with tips to help you and your business mitigate potential storm loss and maximize coverage.

The ...

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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.

Time 3 Minute Read

Recently, an Illinois federal judge ruled that where government shutdown orders due to COVID-19 in different states impacted one insured, that insured suffered separate occurrences in each effected state. Dental Experts, LLC v. Massachusetts Bay Ins. Co., No. 20 C 5887, 2022 WL 2528104 (N.D. Ill. July 7, 2022).

Time 7 Minute Read

Prior posts in this series have discussed insurance coverage issues that pertain directly to wildfire claims, but we have not yet addressed how one proceeds following a loss.  In this post in the Blog’s Wildfire Insurance Coverage Series, we discuss the preparation, submission and negotiation of the insurance claim.

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Because of the potential exposure associated with wildfires, many insurers have attempted to withdraw from the property coverage market in various states. In this post in the Blog’s Wildfire Insurance Coverage Series, we discuss the challenges businesses and individuals face in obtaining wildfire insurance coverage, and the regulatory scheme that is intended to help them secure adequate coverage.

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Insurance policies provide different levels of insurance coverage and even if the amount purchased was adequate at one time, developments over time (e.g., inflation, upgrades, regulatory changes and surge pricing) may leave the policyholder underinsured. In this post in the Blog’s Wildfire Insurance Coverage Series, we emphasize the need for policyholders to take a close look at the policy’s terms to select the right type and amount of coverage for a potential loss.

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Business loss is not limited to fire or smoke damage to its own property – it often arises from damage to the supply chain. In this post in the Blog’s Wildfire Insurance Coverage Series, we look at what coverage may exist when wildfire damages an entity’s supply chain.

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Even when claims are within the scope of coverage, insurers often rely on exclusions in an attempt to avoid coverage for wildfire claims. In this post in the Blog’s Wildfire Insurance Coverage Series, we discuss the interplay between coverage grants and exclusions, and the “anti-concurrent cause” provision.

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For many policyholders, smoke emanating from wildfire causes as much if not more damage than the fire itself.  In this post in the Blog’s Wildfire Insurance Coverage Series, we discuss damages caused by smoke emanating from wildfires.

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Wildfires destroy millions of acres a year in the United States, spewing smoke across much of the nation. The cost of damage alone over the past several years soars into the hundreds of billions. As wildfires continue to spread, particularly as we enter wildfire season, policyholders’ claims will rise and with that, so too will wildfire insurance coverage issues. Many believe that when a fire damages their property and/or interrupts their business operations, a claim gets submitted and is automatically paid; sadly, this is often not the case.

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Most insurance policies include a period of limitation provision that limits how long policyholders have to sue their insurers for coverage under the policy.  But those periods of limitation can be traps for the unwary.  As with many insurance provisions, different states construe the same language differently.  States not only start the clock at different times, some states pause the clock while the insurer considers whether it will provide coverage.

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The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and supply chain issues have caused several major event organizers to cancel or postpone concerts, sporting events, and awards shows, among many other large-scale events. For example, this week, Elton John postponed tour concerts after testing positive for Covid-19; last week, Adele put on hold her much-anticipated Las Vegas residency over “delivery delays” and Covid-19 diagnoses among her team; last month, the NHL, NBA, and the NFL rescheduled major games, with the NHL citing concerns about “the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions,” and the NFL citing “medical advice” after “seeing a new, highly transmissible form of the virus;” and the Grammys postponed its January 31 awards show in Los Angeles—to now take place on April 3 in Las Vegas. The cancellations and postponements of these types of events often have major financial effects on its organizers and producers. Given the risk of substantial losses following the cancellation of big-ticket events, businesses should be aware that they can tap into event cancellation insurance to mitigate and protect against these risks.

Time 6 Minute Read

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

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As governments lift COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and economies begin to reopen, consumer demand for products has skyrocketed. Amid the spike in demand, businesses are struggling to meet consumers’ needs due to ongoing global supply chain disruption. The disruption stems from many factors, including the lingering effects of COVID-19 mitigation strategies that slashed the production of goods, as well as a shortage of warehouse workers and truck drivers. Insurance is a key component of supply chain risk management. Policyholders who rely on a supply chain can use insurance to protect against supply chain risks. Here, we explore supply chain risks and how insurance can mitigate those risks.

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

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This year, like last, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an extremely active hurricane season. As we write this post, the Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic, New York, and New England regions are still recovering from the devastation Ida has left in her path. Now is the time to ensure your insurance program is hurricane-ready. As reported in the client alert linked below, our insurance coverage team provides critical steps that you should take now to ensure that you protect your assets and maximize recovery in the unfortunate event of a hurricane claim.

Continue ...

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

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In 2020, Americans faced a shortage of toilet paper. This year, companies face a shortage of microchips. Microchips are a crucial component in a growing number of electronic products, everything from smartphones to cars and household appliances. As the shortage trickles down the supply chain, downstream businesses are now unable to obtain the microchips or other components they need to make their products. This forced companies to slow or, in some cases, totally shut down their production lines until the supply of microchips can be restored. These slowdowns and closures have led to substantial losses of income for affected businesses. Fortunately, insurance coverage is likely available for these types of business income losses.

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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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On Wednesday, a federal judge in Texas denied Factory Mutual’s Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that the plaintiffs adequately alleged that the presence of COVID-19 on their property caused covered physical loss or damage in the case of Cinemark Holdings, Inc. v. Factory Mutual Insurance Co., No. 4:21-CV-00011 (E.D. Tex. May 5, 2021). This is the third COVID-19-related business interruption decision from Judge Amos Mazzant since March, but the first in favor of a policyholder. Taken together, the three decisions have two key takeaways and provide a roadmap for policyholders in all jurisdictions.

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On Wednesday, a federal judge in New York denied FM’s Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings after finding the Contamination Exclusion in the Factory Mutual policy to be ambiguous as to whether it bars coverage for business interruption losses resulting from communicable disease.  The case is Thor Equities, LLC v. Factory Mutual Ins. Co., No. 20 Civ. 3380 (AT) (SDNY).  This is a critical decision under the Factory Mutual policy form, which is substantively the same as policies issued by Factory Mutual’s sister company, Affiliated FM Insurance Company.  Factory Mutual and Affiliated FM have maintained that the contamination coverages are “exceptions” to this exclusion, with the exclusion precluding coverage for communicable disease loss under other policy coverages.  But the ruling validates what policyholders have been arguing – that communicable disease “loss” is covered throughout the Factory Mutual policy, in addition to under the sublimited communicable disease emergency response coverages.

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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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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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As previously reported, an Oklahoma state court recently granted summary judgment to the Cherokee Nation for its COVID-19 business interruption claim. The court has now issued a more substantive opinion, establishing the merits of the Cherokee Nation’s claim and providing yet another blueprint for policyholders seeking to recover COVID-19-related losses under “all risk” commercial property insurance policies.

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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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On December 9, 2020, in Elegant Massage, LLC v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No 2:20-cv-00265-RAJ-LRL (E.D.V.A. Dec. 9, 2020) , a Virginia federal court refused to dismiss a majority of the policyholder’s breach of contract claim and its request for bad faith damages, declaratory judgment and class certification, all stemming from the insurers’ denial of coverage for COVID-19 related business income losses. The policyholder, a spa, purchased an all-risk property insurance policy with coverage for, among other things, loss of business income and extra expense. The spa, a non-essential business, closed on March 16, 2020 as a result of state orders requiring all non-essential businesses to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It did not reopen until May 15. Once re-opened, however, the policyholder was required to implement operational controls and precautions to ensure the safety of the public and its employees. Following its closure, the policyholder sought coverage under its all-risk insurance policy. The insurer denied coverage for the claim, contending first that losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closure orders did not constitute “property damage” within the meaning of the policy and, second, even if the losses were because of “property damage,” the claim implicated various exclusions to coverage. The policyholder then initiated suit against its insurers.

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On November 10, 2020, a New York federal judge dismissed an insurer’s counterclaims seeking to cap its exposure under a $15 million sublimit and an order estopping the policyholder from pursuing any additional amounts.

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In another victory for policyholders, a Pennsylvania judge denied an insurer’s early attempt to avoid coverage for losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the judge did not explain his reasoning, the denial is positive news for policyholders who are litigating whether COVID-19 causes “physical damage or loss” and whether so-called “virus” exclusions limit or bar coverage for pandemic-related losses.

Time 4 Minute Read

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.

Time 8 Minute Read

On October 6, 2020, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. issued Georgia’s first COVID-19 business interruption insurance decision, finding Governor Brian Kemp’s State of Emergency Executive Order did not cause “physical loss of” the policyholders’ closed dining rooms. Henry’s Louisiana Grill, Inc. et al. v. Allied Ins. Co. of Am., No. 1:20-cv-2939-TWT (N.D. Ga. Oct. 6, 2020). The decision takes an unusually narrow view of the phrase “loss of,” as it is used in the policy and, consequently, reaches a conclusion that is inconsistent with how other courts have analyzed the phrase.

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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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On September 29, 2020, The National Law Review published an article by Scott DeVries, Lorie Masters, and Michael Huggins concerning setting the correct prism for construing policy language, which can be outcome-determinative in COVID-19 business interruption cases.  A key takeaway from the article is that a court’s adherence to traditional principles of insurance policy interpretation may result in more cases finding in favor of business interruption coverage for COVID-19 related claims.  For example, relevant principles of interpretation include, among others, that ...

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

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A New Jersey trial court recently denied an insurer’s motion to dismiss a COVID-19 business interruption suit brought by a group of optometry practices finding unsettled questions under New Jersey law about whether loss of a property’s functional use can constitute “direct physical loss” under a property policy. Optical Services USA/JC1 v. Franklin Mutual Ins. Co., No. BER-L-3681-20 (N.J. Super. Ct. Bergen Cty. Aug. 13, 2020) (transcript). Based on this finding, the court determined that the optometrists were entitled to issue-oriented discovery and to amend their complaint accordingly.

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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 expanded upon here in our firm’s Three Key Things in Health Care update, health care providers should not let a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal dissuade them from aggressively pursuing recovery for business interruption losses related to COVID. In short, the authors of that editorial ignore the language and structure of many insurance policies, which either provide for coverage of COVID-related losses by their express terms or expressly contemplate state-mandated coverage expansions favoring the insured as binding on the insurer ...
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On August 28, Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the Central District of California, entered the latest ruling in the ongoing saga of the COVID-19 business interruption coverage dispute between celebrity plaintiff’s attorney Mark Geragos and Insurer Travelers.

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On August 13, 2020, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas granted State Farm Lloyds’ (“State Farm”) motion to dismiss a claim for loss of income resulting from multiple executive orders requiring closure of non-essential businesses in Bexar County, Texas following the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] In doing so, the court admitted that courts across many jurisdictions have found “physical loss” in the absence of tangible destruction to a covered property. However, the court glossed over such analogous cases involving disease-causing agents such as E. coli, ammonia, and asbestos, where those courts found the existence of physical loss.

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As Texas and Louisiana brace for Hurricane Laura to make landfall, policyholders in the affected regions should be making last minute preparations to ensure their properties are covered in the storm’s wake.

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On August 25, 2020, an article by Syed Ahmad and Michael Huggins was run in Mealey’s Insurance concerning the use of direct and circumstantial evidence to show the presence of COVID-19 for purposes of seeking business interruption coverage.  A key takeaway from the article is that direct evidence of COVID-19 at a premises, such as through positive test results, may not be necessary to establish the presence of COVID-19.  Instead, insurers and courts should consider circumstantial evidence, with equal weight as may be given direct evidence, such as witness testimony that employees ...

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Over the past couple of months, we have written on decisions by various European insurers to pay policyholders for their COVID-19 related losses. That positive trend is now moving across continents.

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On August 18, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a District Court’s 2018 ruling that Sparta Insurance Company need not cover a south Florida restaurant’s lost income and extra expenses resulting from nearby road construction. But, in doing so, the appeals court appears to deviate from even its own understanding of “direct physical loss” under controlling Florida law.

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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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We previously reported on the July 30 argument before the MDL Panel regarding plaintiffs’ motion to consolidate more than 275 COVID-19 Business Interruption cases.

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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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On August 6, 2020, in Rose’s 1 LLC, et al. v. Erie Insurance Exchange, Civ. Case No. 2020 CA 002424 B, a District of Columbia trial court found in favor of an insurer on cross motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether COVID-19 closure orders constitute a “direct physical loss” under a commercial property policy.

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On July 30, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation held a Zoom hearing on a motion filed by plaintiffs’ lawyers to consolidate hundreds of business interruption claims filed across the country. The Panel permitted a number of plaintiffs’ counsel and two insurers’ counsel to each argue for 3 uninterrupted minutes and then respond to questions.

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Hunton insurance recovery partner, Mike Levine, recently sat down with Thompson Reuters to discuss his experiences with COVID-19 business interruption claims and litigation.  In the interview, Mike discusses his recently filed lawsuit against AIG Specialty Insurance Company, which he brought on behalf of Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas.  This is the second major casino lawsuit Mike and the firm have filed; the first being against Affiliated FM Insurance Company on behalf of Treasure Island Casino.  Mike also shares his views on the insurance industry’s apparent concerted ...
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On June 29, in a development that may fundamentally change the landscape for California businesses which have sustained COVID-19 related business interruption loss, two California legislators amended pending legislation to address several of the most hotly contested issues regarding insurance recovery for these devastating losses.

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Last month we wrote a piece concerning AXA’s agreement to pay COVID-19 related business interruption claims by a group of restaurants in France after a court ruled that the restaurants’ revenue losses resulting from COVID-19 and related government orders were covered under its insurance policies. AXA reportedly has already agreed to pay over 200 COVID-19 related claims.

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On May 26, 2020, a California Court of Appeals (4th District) issued its decision in Mosley et al. v. Pacific Specialty Ins. Co.  The case arose in the context of a marijuana-growing tenant who rerouted a home’s electrical system and caused an electrical fire.  The issue was whether the homeowner’s policy covered the loss.  The trial court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment and, in a divided decision, the Court of Appeals reversed in part.

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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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AXA, one of the biggest insurance companies in the world, has agreed to pay COVID-related business interruption claims by a group of restaurants in Paris after a court ruled that the restaurants’ revenue losses resulting from COVID-19 and related government orders were covered under AXA’s policies.

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Evolving government orders will affect the way many retail businesses operate and the potential insurance available for losses and expenses. For instance, on April 28, 2020, the State Health Officer of Alabama issued an Order allowing some businesses to reopen, but under strict sanitation and social distancing guidelines. Retail stores, for example, will be allowed to reopen but must maintain a maximum occupancy rate of 50%. While a partial opening may restore some level of activity, because these businesses must operate at a reduced capacity, their operations will not return to normal. Beyond that, while some states are loosening social distancing requirements, others have extended them. Indeed, on the same day that Alabama announced its partial reopening, the Governor of Massachusetts extended the closures of non-essential businesses. Regardless of location, many businesses will likely sustain substantial losses because of these orders, and will incur expenses to comply with evolving requirements and operational guidelines.

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Louisiana joins a growing list of states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, and New York that are considering legislation, here and here,  that would require insurance coverage for the business interruption losses caused by COVID-19.  We have discussed other legislative efforts here and here.  The Louisiana House and Senate have each put forth bills that would, like the other states’ measures, require insurers to cover business interruption losses due to COVID-19 despite policy language that an insurer might try to rely on to argue otherwise.  Unlike the other bills ...
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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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Two more lawsuits were filed yesterday concerning business interruption losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The plaintiffs, the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, filed their lawsuits, copies of which can be found here and here, in Oklahoma state court against a litany of property insurers, led by AIG.  The lawsuits seek an order that any financial losses suffered by the nations’ casinos, restaurants and other businesses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are covered by the nations’ insurance policies.

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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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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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Earlier last week, Hunton insurance partner Michael Levine spoke with Business Insurance about the mounting concerns over insuring Coronavirus-related business income and supply chain losses.  As of today, almost 80,000 cases have been reported world-wide and more than 2,250 are confirmed to have died as a result of the disease.  Companies across the globe have been impacted, with loss of materials, markets and distribution representing a common thread among reported losses and disruptions.  But these “supply chain” losses may be compensable through insurance.  Policyholders will be forced to evaluate complex policy provisions and endorsements to ascertain whether their insurance program should respond.  In particular, policyholders must determine whether their policy wording requires some element of physical loss or damage to property to trigger business interruption or contingent business interruption coverage.  Even where such a requirement exists, however, some policies are written so that loss of use of property is sufficient to implicate coverage.  Likewise, questions exist concerning contamination to property, and whether that too may constitute physical loss, damage or loss of use.  For these reasons, among others, Levine explained to Business Insurance that “contingent business interruption . . . is going to be one of the battlegrounds, if not the main battleground, particularly in the supply chain area.” Levine further noted that claims could be complicated by the physical damage requirement.

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A Texas judge has ruled that Hunton Andrews Kurth is entitled to coverage from Great Northern Insurance Co., a unit of Chubb, Ltd. (“Chubb”), for losses its predecessor firm suffered when Hurricane Harvey closed its Houston office and disrupted business in 2017.

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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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After a four-day trial, an Arizona federal jury found that Western Truck Insurance Services, Inc., an insurance broker, was negligent in selling Madison Alley Transportation and Logistics Inc. a business interruption policy with inadequate annual limits. Based on its finding of negligence, the jury determined that the broker was liable for $685,000 of $1,000,000 in damages suffered by Madison Alley as a result of a flood in its warehouse.  The verdict and Complaint, filed in Arizona state court before the case was removed, can be found here and here.

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As the 2019 hurricane season peaks, the Bahamas and the Southeast United States have already endured a catastrophic storm. Hurricane Dorian not only tragically caused loss of life and substantial property damage, but it also led to the cancellation or postponement of major events, resulting in considerable economic losses for affected companies.

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A recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease has been traced to a Sheraton hotel in Atlanta, Georgia.  According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 11 cases are confirmed and 55 more cases are “probable.”  The Atlanta Sheraton closed on July 15 to investigate the outbreak.  The closure is certain to result in a substantial immediate loss of revenue for the property.  The closure and loss of advanced reservations also will likely result in an extended interruption of hotel revenue.  Add to that potential stigma-related losses that will result from those afraid to reenter the property after the hotel reopens.  Sheraton will likely turn to its insurers to seek payment for its business interruption costs.

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On July 3, 2019, a Delaware jury determined that fourteen property insurers for Noranda Aluminum Holding Corp., an aluminum producer that filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations three years ago, owe Noranda over $35 million in time element losses that Noranda sustained as a result of two separate catastrophic incidents that occurred at its aluminum facility in 2015 and 2016.

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In the first part of a 3-part series, the Hunton insurance team discusses how policyholders can plan for this year’s hurricane season. Part 2 will address how to prepare a claim after a loss in order to maximize the potential recovery, including by taking photographs of any damage and tracking curfews that affect your operations.  Part 3 will discuss how to prevent denials of pending claims based on suit limitations periods.  The team’s goal is to provide a comprehensive outline that will guide policyholders before and after a loss.

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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]

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In an Expert Analysis recently published in Law360, Hunton insurance recovery attorneys Sergio Oehninger and Latosha Ellis discuss the many ways that event cancellation insurance can help mitigate loss caused by government shutdowns and other disruptive events.  A copy of the Expert Analysis can be found here.

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In an article appearing in Electric Light & Power, Hunton insurance recovery lawyers, Lawrence Bracken, Sergio Oehninger and Alexander Russo discuss the insurability of losses resulting from the recent wildfires in California.  Many affected by the tragedy have tried to shift responsibility to utility and power companies, which also may face subrogation claims from insurers that paid property and business owners for first-party losses.  In addition, liability insurance programs may help defray costs imposed upon those believed to be at fault, including costs resulting from ...

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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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Puerto Rico’s dire insurance situation more than a year after Hurricane Maria remains a constant reminder of why policyholders must diligently pursue their property and business interruption claims in the immediate aftermath of a storm.  The numbers are staggering.  On an island the approximate size of Connecticut, Hurricane Maria caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.  According to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner of Puerto Rico, the hurricane resulted in more than 287,000 insurance claims.  Roughly 11,000 of those claims, representing an estimated $2 billion in losses, remain unresolved.

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Hurricane Florence has yet to make landfall, but the storm has already wreaked havoc on this weekend’s college football schedule, concerts, and other events. West Virginia and NC State postponed their Saturday game indefinitely.  Rescheduling remains to be seen.  UCF and North Carolina cancelled their game outright, as did East Carolina and Virginia Tech.  Other teams relocated their games or changed dates and start times, with many offering free tickets to fans who can accommodate the last-minute changes.  The NFL also is keeping a close eye on the situation, as the storm could impact Sunday’s game between the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts at FedEx Field.  Meanwhile, non-sporting events also have been cancelled, including Alan Jackson’s concert at the North Charleston Coliseum, the Zac Brown Band’s concerts in Charlotte and Raleigh, and J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival, which alone will require the refunding of some 30,000 tickets.

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Hurricane Florence will affect the U.S. east coast later this week with significant damage to property and resulting business disruption.  Businesses far-removed from the impact zone also will be affected as manufacturing, retail, travel and supply chains, among other industries, are disrupted by the physical damage.  For those in the impact zone, knowing the fundamentals about your property insurance is critical.  For those in remote locations, now is a good time to refresh yourself as well, since post-storm disruptions and losses require prompt notice to insurers and fast action to help mitigate any resulting loss.  A failure on either front could jeopardize coverage.

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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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The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (“FFIEC”), a U.S. governmental body comprised of banking regulators, recently issued guidance to financial institutions directing them to consider implementing dedicated cyber insurance programs to offset financial losses resulting from cyber incidents. Financial institutions face a number of potentially crippling risks arising from cyber incidents, including financial, operational, legal, compliance, strategic, and reputational risks resulting from fraud, data loss, or disruption of service. While cyber insurance can mitigate these risks, it is not required by financial regulators, and thus many financial institutions may not have obtained such insurance specifically designed to cover their cyber risks.  Nonetheless, the FFIEC now is urging financial institutions to include dedicated cyber insurance as part of a multi-faceted cyber risk management strategy and not to rely solely on traditional insurance.  In addition, the FFIEC is recommending that financial institutions have their outside advisors review their potential cyber insurance coverage to ensure that it will cover the relevant risks.

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Kanye West’s touring company, Very Good Touring, Inc. (Very Good), and its insurer, Lloyd’s of London (Lloyd’s), have resolved their dispute over event cancellation coverage for West’s “Life of Pablo” Tour, which experienced canceled shows due to West’s health condition. The settlement resolved all claims and counterclaims.

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On Wednesday, my colleagues Walter Andrews and Katie Miller published a timely article in Florida’s Daily Business Review discussing the availability of insurance coverage for continuing losses suffered by businesses directly and indirectly affected by Hurricane Irma.  The article, titled After Irma: Is Your Business Entitled to Insurance Coverage for Additional Lost Profits?, has equal application to those affected by Hurricanes Maria and Harvey.  As the article explains, continuing business income losses may be covered under common property insurance policy provisions.  Where they are not, the article provides insightful advice for policyholders as they approach policy renewal so they can fill gaps that may exist in their current coverages.  A copy of the article can be found here.

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