Posts in Commercial General Liability.
Time 5 Minute Read

Insurance coverage lawsuits often hinge on the plain and ordinary meaning of specific words or phrases. But not every word in an insurance policy can be defined. Yet without stable and predictable definitions, neither policyholders nor insurers can establish a clear and consistent scope of coverage. In a recent concurring opinion, Eleventh Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) large language models (LLMs) could help resolve these definitional debates. His opinion in Snell v. United Specialty Insurance Company, No. 22-12581, 2024 WL 2717700 (11th Cir. May 28, 2024) highlights the pros and cons of calling upon technology to supply plain meaning.

Time 4 Minute Read

Human beings are social creatures. In today’s world, social media platforms are ever-growing and there are more users than ever before. But, at what cost? The use of social media has consequences. Policyholders should look to their CGL insurers for defense coverage, under Coverage A or Coverage B.

Time 3 Minute Read

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

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

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

Time 6 Minute Read

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.

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.

Time 4 Minute Read

A Michigan federal court in Wolverine World Wide Inc. v. The American Insurance Co. et al., No. 1:19-cv-00010 (W.D. Mich.), recently confirmed what should go without saying – a claim handler is a claim handler, even if they may also be a lawyer.  Recognizing that it’s the nature of the work that drives the analysis, the court ordered an in-house Travelers’ attorney to sit for a deposition in a PFAS coverage suit because the attorney was performing ordinary claim-handling activity.  In rejecting the insurer’s arguments, the court reiterated that “an insurer cannot create a ‘shroud of secrecy’ by simply designating an attorney to conduct an otherwise ordinary claim investigation.”

Time 10 Minute Read

Commercial general liability insurance policies are often written on an “occurrence” basis. An “occurrence” is typically defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” Coverage, therefore, requires generally that the “bodily injury” or “property damage” (or “advertising injury” or “personal injury”) happen fortuitously during the effective policy period. Central to this inquiry is knowing when the injury or damage took place. 

Time 4 Minute Read

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

Time 6 Minute Read

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.

Time 3 Minute Read

The Fifth Circuit recently reaffirmed that an insurer’s duty to indemnify hinges on the facts determined in the underlying case, not the allegations. Thus, as confirmed by the Fifth Circuit’s July 31, 2023 decision in Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Copart of Conn., Inc., No. 21-10938, 2023 WL 4862793 (5th Cir. July 31, 2023), an adverse duty-to-defend decision may not foreclose a liability insurer’s indemnity obligations.

Time 5 Minute Read

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.

Time 5 Minute Read

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

Time 5 Minute Read

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. 

Time 5 Minute Read

GreenGate Fresh’s romaine lettuce might once have made you ill, but their recent victory in the New York Appellate Division certainly won’t. GreenGate was one of many lettuce producers forced to recall their lettuce amidst two E. Coli outbreaks in 2018. GreenGate sought coverage for the recall from its insurer, Houston Casualty Company, who denied coverage, contending that the government recall was not specifically directed at GreenGate. The trial court disagreed and entered judgment in favor of GreenGate. The New York Appellate Division affirmed, finding it irrelevant that GreenGate was not specifically named in the government’s recall recommendation.

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In 2008, Illinois enacted the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) to protect individuals’ privacy rights in their biometric information, including retina or iris scans, fingerprint, voiceprint, hand scans, facial geometry, DNA and other unique, identifying biological information. Companies are now paying hundreds of millions of dollars to settle employee and consumer suits for BIPA violations. In a recent Reuters Legal News article, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP attorneys Syed Ahmad, Rachel Hudgins and Torsten Kracht, discuss what BIPA is, how it applies to companies ...

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On April 11, 2023, Maryland Governor Wes Moore signed into law the Child Victims Act of 2023, allowing Maryland to join the growing number of states to rejuvenate previously time-barred lawsuits by victims of child sexual abuse against public school boards, government entities and private institutions. The Act also increases the statutory cap on civil damages for child sexual abuse—damages against public school boards and government entities are capped at $890,000 per incident, while per-incident damages against private institutions, including independent schools, are capped at $1.5 million. Maryland follows other states, like California and New York, which paved a path for abuse victims to bring previously time-barred claims based on alleged abuse that occurred decades earlier. Maryland is the first state, however, to pass this type of statute with a lookback period of infinite duration—meaning there is no limit for how long ago the alleged abuse occurred, and the statutes of limitation for lawsuits based on future acts of abuse are eliminated. Other states, such as New York and New Jersey, created limited lookback periods (one or two years), during which survivors were able to file previously time-barred claims.  

Time 4 Minute Read

As discussed in a recent client alert, on March 24, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 837 into law, making it more difficult and costly for insurance policyholders of all sizes to sue insurers for bad faith by eliminating fee-shifting for most policyholders and requiring something “more than” negligence for bad faith claims.

Time 3 Minute Read

On March 20, 2023, the Southern District of New York denied a policyholder’s claim for coverage and granted the insurer’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in Pine Management, Inc. v. Colony Insurance Company. The parties disputed whether a real estate liability insurance policy provided defense and indemnification for Pine Management, Inc. in an underlying lawsuit brought by numerous companies that Pine managed. A simple question proved pivotal in the outcome: whether Pine had timely sought coverage for its claim.

Time 8 Minute Read

PFAS Regulation

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl Substances (“PFAS”) are a class of substances that have increasingly become the target of federal and state regulation in everything from drinking water, groundwater, site contamination, waste, air emissions, firefighting foam, personal care products, food and food packaging, and now consumer and commercial products. PFAS are widely-used chemicals that have the unique ability to repel both oil and water, which led to their application in many products including items such as stain and water-repellent fabric, chemical-and oil-resistant coatings, food packaging materials, plastics, firefighting foam, solar panels and many others. The carbon-fluorine bond is the strongest in nature, making these compounds highly persistent in the environment.

Time 6 Minute Read

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

Time 5 Minute Read

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. 

Time 5 Minute Read

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.

Time 7 Minute Read

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

Time 5 Minute Read

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.

Time 5 Minute Read

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.

Time 4 Minute Read

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

Time 6 Minute Read

NL Industries recently prevailed against its commercial general liability insurers in the New York Appellate Division in a noteworthy case regarding the meaning of “expected or intended” injury and the meaning of “damages” in a liability insurance policy. In Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. NL Industries, Inc., No. 2021-00241, 2022 WL 867910 (N.Y. App. Div. Mar. 24, 2022) (“NL Indus. II”), the Appellate Division held that exclusions for expected or intended injury required a finding that NL actually expected or intended the resulting harm; not merely have knowledge of an increased risk of harm. In addition, the court held that the funding of an abatement fund designed to prevent future harm amounted to “damages” in the context of a liability policy because the fund has a compensatory effect. NL Industries II is a reminder to insurers and policyholders alike that coverage is construed liberally and exclusions are construed narrowly towards maximizing coverage. 

Time 4 Minute Read

In 1938, a DuPont chemist’s experiment yielded not—as he first thought—a lumpen, waxy mistake, but a new chemical with remarkable properties: heat-resistance, chemical stability, and low surface friction. Decades of continuing experimentation yielded a class of chemicals with the capacity to make non-stick, water-resistant coatings. In time, these chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), would become a major component in thousands of consumer goods: food packaging, non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, paint, stain-resistant carpets and furniture, and firefighting foams. The discovery of the toxicity of these remarkable chemicals lagged behind the widespread adoption, but eventually yielded a moniker that reflected PFAS’s stability and longevity: “Forever Chemicals.”

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 5 Minute Read

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”).

Time 3 Minute Read

A New Mexico court recently granted judgment on the pleadings against an insurer and found coverage, reminding the insurer that different words in a policy, indeed, have different meanings.

In Power of Grace, LLC v. Weatherby, Power of Grace, a policyholder, sued its insurer, Hudson Insurance Companies, and its insurance agent, Weatherby-Eisenrich Inc.  Power of Grace alleged that Weatherby and Hudson were liable for damages it might incur in an underlying wrongful death lawsuit arising from a tractor-trailer accident.

Time 6 Minute Read

What Happened:

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

The Bottom Line:

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

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

Time 4 Minute Read

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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Just as the Ohio and Delaware supreme courts gear up for oral argument – September 8th and 22nd, respectively – on whether insurers must defend opioid distributors in lawsuits related to the opioid crisis, Hunton Andrews Kurth Partner Syed Ahmad weighed in with the policyholders’ prospective for Law360. “These appeals are significant,” Ahmad explained (and insurers’ counsel agreed), “because of the potential far-reaching impact on the scope of general liability coverage.”

Time 5 Minute Read

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

Time 6 Minute Read

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

Time 5 Minute Read

On May 20, 2021, the Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the state appellate decision finding that that West Bend Mutual Insurance Company must defend its insured, a tanning salon, against a class-action lawsuit claiming violation of the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) under two business owners’ liability policies.

Time 4 Minute Read

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

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

Time 3 Minute Read

The First Circuit recently held that a “Special Hazard and Fluids Limitation Endorsement” was ambiguous and therefore there was excess coverage for a fuel spill that occurred after a tanker-truck overturned.

In Performance Trans. Inc. v. General Star Indem. Co., the First Circuit reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of General Star Indemnity Company. The District Court held that the excess policy General Star issued to Performance Trans. Inc. precluded coverage for a spill that resulted in the leaking of thousands of gallons of fuel. The District Court relied on the existence of a total pollution exclusion to bar coverage and held that the policy’s Special Hazards and Fluids Limitation Endorsement could not create an ambiguity that would afford coverage.

Time 4 Minute Read

The Fifth Circuit recently rebuffed an attempt by Chubb subsidiary Ace American Insurance Co. (“Ace”) to evade liability from its excess insurer, Zurich North America subsidiary American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co. (“AGLIC”), after Ace unreasonably rejected a settlement offer within its policy limits in violation of its Stowers duty. See Am. Guarantee & Liab. Ins. Co. v. ACE Am. Ins. Co., 19-20779, 2020 WL 7487067 (5th Cir. Dec. 21, 2020). As a result, Ace must now pay approximately $7.27 million in damages to AGLIC to cover its costs to settle the underlying lawsuit plus prejudgment interest and court costs.

Time 3 Minute Read

Hunton insurance attorneys Syed Ahmad and Geoffrey Fehling provide several updates on recent recall insurance disputes in the latest edition of the Recall Roundup, posted on the Hunton Retail Law Resource Blog.

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In this month’s Recall Roundup on the Hunton Andrews Kurth Retail Law Resource blog, Hunton insurance attorneys Syed S. Ahmad and Geoffrey B. Fehling weighed in on a recent food contamination insurance coverage dispute, Travelers Casualty Insurance Co. of America v. Mediterranean Grill & Kabob, Inc. (W.D. Tex. Nov. 4, 2020), which dealt with single versus multiple “occurrences” under an insurance policy, a common issue in recall and contamination-related claims.

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed a ruling from the Northern District of Illinois that a subcontractor’s insurer must defend the general contractor in a negligence suit brought by an employee of the subcontractor for injuries suffered on the job.

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Walmart announced this week that it is testing a pilot program in North Carolina for the delivery of groceries and household items using automated drones, joining other retailers looking to beef up their drone delivery business.  In a related development, last week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated Amazon Prime Air as an “air carrier,” a key step in the process of Amazon’s quest to expand into the delivery-by-drone arena.  Amazon joins Wing, the Alphabet Inc. subsidiary, and UPS as companies that have obtained FAA approval to operate unmanned aircraft systems (i.e., drones) under the federal regulations.  Given the rapid rise of commercial drone use, businesses have understandably grown concerned that their drone technologies will expose them to a new set of risks, including damage to the drone itself, as well as third-party claims following property or physical injury caused by a company-operated or company-owned drone (and other third-party claims like invasion of privacy).  In light of these risks, it is key that businesses using drones obtain the insurance coverage necessary to protect themselves against such risks, and that they explore all coverage options should a drone-related loss arise in order to maximize their chances of insurance recovery.

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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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A Massachusetts intermediate appellate court recently found no coverage for a general contractor listed as an additional insured under a subcontractor’s general liability insurance policy. The general contractor sought coverage for a negligence action brought by an employee of the subcontractor regarding workplace injuries.

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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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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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The My Choice Decision

On August 19, 2020, the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in My Choice Software, LLC v. Travelers Casualty Insurance Co. of America, No. 19-56030, 2020 WL 4814235, holding that longstanding rules of insurance policy construction required reversal of a district court holding denying a duty to defend. Specifically, the Court determined that the Intellectual Property Exclusion in a Travelers policy did not unambiguously preclude the possibility of coverage for a claim against the Insured, My Choice, and that Travelers accordingly had a duty to defend.

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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.

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 1 Minute Read

The wave of COVID-19 litigation should cause courts to consider whether the plain meaning of a general liability insuring agreement triggers coverage for certain damages flowing from COVID-19 losses. Policies with insuring agreements providing coverage “because of” bodily injury or property damage are broader than those that apply coverage “for” bodily injury or property damage. Hunton Andrews Kurth insurance attorneys Syed S. Ahmad and Rachel E. Hudgins authored an article published by the Insurance Coverage Law Center analyzing this difference. The full article is available here.

Time 2 Minute Read

The California Supreme Court ruled that vertical exhaustion applied to determine how a policyholder could access its excess insurance policies. Montrose Chem. Corp. v. Superior Court, No. S244737 (Cal. Apr. 6, 2020). The case involved coverage for Montrose Chemical Corporation’s environmental liabilities at its Torrance facility under insurance policies issued from 1961 to 1985. Montrose and its insurers agreed that Montrose’s primary policies were exhausted but disputed the sequence in which Montrose could access the excess insurance policies.

Time 4 Minute Read

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.

Time 5 Minute Read

On February 13, 2020, a Texas federal court granted summary judgment in favor of coverage, finding the policyholder provided sufficient notice to its insurer of a potential claim for damages caused by allegedly contaminated proppant used at a well site in west Texas.  See Evanston Insurance Company v. OPF Enterprises, LLC, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-2048 (S.D.T.X. Feb. 13, 2020) (Dkt. No. 51) .  The Court found that the policyholder’s notice of a potential claim was effective when provided to the insurer’s agent, even though it was not provided directly to the insurer itself.

Time 6 Minute Read

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.

Time 4 Minute Read

A Michigan federal court held recently in Great American Fidelity Ins. Co. v. Stout Risius Ross, Inc., et al., 2020 WL 601784, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 7, 2020), that an insurer must defend an investment advisor against lawsuits alleging that it fraudulently overvalued the stock of a company destined for bankruptcy.  The court determined that the insurer failed to show that an exclusion barring coverage for claims arising out of ERISA and other securities laws violations was broad enough to bar coverage for accompanying common law claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

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Hunton Insurance partners Syed Ahmad and Michael Levine were interviewed by Law360 for its year-end article discussing the top insurance rulings in 2019, for their insights on two of the year’s biggest insurance decisions.

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In an important decision for policyholders, a New York state appellate court rejected AIG’s effort to avoid defending McGraw-Hill in a series of copyright suits.  In doing so, it reversed the trial court and rejected the insurer’s attempted use of the contract exclusion and fortuity doctrine as a bar to coverage under various multimedia liability insurance policies.

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In responding to a certified question from the Ninth Circuit in T-Mobile USA Inc. v. Selective Insurance Company of America, the Washington Supreme Court has held that an insurer is bound by representations regarding a party’s additional insured status contained in a certificate of insurance issued by the insurer’s authorized agent, even where the certificate contains language disclaiming any effect on coverage.  To hold otherwise, the court noted, would render meaningless representations made on the insurer’s behalf and enable the insurer to mislead parties without consequence.

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On December 9th, the Eleventh Circuit held that a loss of over $1.7 million to scammers was covered under a commercial crime insurance policy’s fraudulent instruction provision.

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The Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sanders v. Illinois Union Insurance Co., 2019 IL 124565 (2019), announced the standard for triggering general liability coverage for malicious prosecution claims under Illinois law.  In its decision, the court construed what appears to be a policy ambiguity against the policyholder in spite of the longstanding rule of contra proferentem, limiting coverage to policies in place at the time of the wrongful prosecution, and not the policies in effect when the final element of the tort of malicious prosecution occurred (i.e. the exoneration of the plaintiff).  The net result of the court’s ruling for policyholders susceptible to such claims is that coverage for jury verdicts for malicious prosecution – awarded in today’s dollars – is limited to the coverage procured at the time of the wrongful prosecution, which may (as in this case) be decades old.  Such a scenario can have costly consequences for policyholders given that the limits procured decades ago are often inadequate due to the ever-increasing awards by juries as well as inflation.  Moreover, it may be difficult to locate the legacy policies and the insurers that issued such policies may no longer be solvent or even exist.  A copy of the decision can be found here.

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On November 12, 2019, a federal court in Kentucky held that a vendor service agreement (VSA) between Live Nation Worldwide Inc. and its security vendor, ESG Security, extended coverage under an insurance policy issued by Secura Insurance to ESG, for Live Nation’s liability arising from a concert at a Live Nation facility.

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In a recent decision, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reiterated that the duty to defend broadly requires a liability insurer to defend an entire lawsuit against its insured, even where only some of the allegations are potentially covered.  The court further held that the insured has no obligation to apportion defense costs among multiple implicated policies.  The decision, Selective Way Insurance Company v. Nationwide Property and Casualty Insurance Company, et al., can be found here.

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

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The Third Circuit ruled on Friday that differing “occurrence” definitions can have materially different meanings in the context of whether product defect claims constitute an “occurrence” triggering coverage under general liability insurance policies. The Court held in Sapa Extrusions, Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, that product claims against Sapa may be covered under policies that define an “occurrence” as an accident resulting in bodily injury or property damage “neither expected nor intended from the standpoint of the insured.”  However, the Court affirmed that coverage was not triggered under policies lacking the “expected” or “intended” limitation, reasoning that, under those policies, there was no question that the intentional manufacturing of Sapa’s product was too foreseeable to amount to an “accident.”

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

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On August 6, 2019, Hunton Andrews Kurth insurance lawyers Walter J. Andrews and Daniel Hentschel discussed the effect of eroding insurance policies in an article appearing in Florida’s Daily Business Review. The full article is available here. In the article, the authors discuss the potential risks associated with the use of eroding insurance policies and the obligations that the use of such policies imposes upon insurance companies based on their control over the policyholder’s liability defense ...
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Increasing public concern over sexual misconduct, evidenced by the #MeToo movement and investigations into high-profile organizations such as USA Gymnastics, the Boy Scouts of America, various religious institutions, and the entertainment industry, has led to the enactment of laws that may have a major impact on the coverage litigation world. This year, eighteen states and the District of Columbia will enact laws modifying the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, allowing victims to bring claims that otherwise would have been time-barred.

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A Louisiana court recently denied an excess insurer’s bid for summary judgment, finding that the insurer’s interpretation of a pollution exclusion would lead to “absurd results.”

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The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently held that Zurich American Insurance Company was obligated to defend Electricity Maine, LLC in a class action lawsuit brought by its customers.  The case stems from alleged misconduct by Electricity Maine that resulted in customers receiving higher bills than were previously represented.  Plaintiffs Jennifer Chon and Katherine Veilleux sought to represent a class of approximately 200,000 customers seeking damages totaling approximately $35 million.  Specifically, the complaint asserted claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, violations under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18. U.S.C. §§ 1962, 1964, and the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

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A Delaware court held that an appraisal action, which includes $39 million in attorneys’ fees, prejudgment interest, and costs incurred in defending litigation that arose out of Solera Holdings Inc.’s acquisition by Vista Equity Partners LP, constitutes a covered “securities claim” under Solera’s directors and officers liability insurance policy.

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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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Last week the Northern District of Illinois held in Magnetek, Inc. v. Travelers Indem. Co., 2019 WL 3037080 (N.D. Ill. July 11, 2019), that Travelers had a duty to defend Magnetek, Inc. under insurance policies issued to Magnetek’s predecessor, Fruit of the Loom (“FOTL”). A copy of the Magnetek decision can be found here.

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The Georgia Court of Appeals recently affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of Mountain Express Oil Company on its breach of contract claim against liability insurer, Southern Trust Insurance Company.  Empire Petroleum brought claims against Mountain Express for breach of contract, injunctive relief, and libel or slander, among others.  Mountain Express sought a defense to that lawsuit under its insurance policy with Southern Trust.  Southern Trust contended that the insurance policy did not cover Empire’s non-libel/slander claims, and therefore reimbursed Mountain Express for only a portion of its attorneys’ fees. After the Empire lawsuit settled, Mountain Express sued Southern Trust for breach of contract and bad faith for failing to pay the remaining defense costs, contending that Southern Trust had a duty to defend the entire lawsuit.

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The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas recently rejected a claim by a group of insurance companies (“Underwriters”) against American Global Maritime Inc. for more than $500 million that the Underwriters paid the named insured under an Off-Shore Construction Risk insurance policy for losses resulting from the an alleged off-shore oil rig failure.

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On July 2, 2019, the Fifth Circuit held in Frederking v. Cincinnati Ins. Co.., that Cincinnati Insurance Company was on the hook for injuries resulting from a drinking and driving collision because the collision amounted to an “accident” under its insurance policy. 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 19796, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 2751700.

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A state-appointed panel advised last week that California should change the standard for determining whether utilities are liable for wildfires.  Under the current system, California’s Public Utilities Code § 2106 provides a private right of action by any person or entity that has suffered loss, damages, or injury caused by prohibited or unlawful acts of a public utility.  Relying on this statute, property owners have asserted wildfire-related claims directly against allegedly culpable electric utility companies.  Public utilities in California also face inverse condemnation claims arising out of wildfires.  Under inverse condemnation, where private property is taken for public use and later damaged by the state or its agency, the state or agency is strictly liable to the property owner.

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

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The Scott Fetzer Co. v. Zurich American Insurance Co. matter involved a dispute over coverage for sexual assault claims against Fetzer. Three women filed suit against Fetzer, claiming that John Fields, an independent dealer of vacuums manufactured by Fetzer, verbally and sexually assaulted them. Fetzer’s alleged liability was premised on, among other things, its negligence in supervising its independent contractor’s hiring process. Fetzer settled with each of the three women.

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Upper Deck Co. has sued its general liability insurer, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., in California federal court last week, alleging that Liberty Mutual failed to satisfy its defense obligations in an antitrust lawsuit brought against Upper Deck by rival trading card maker Leaf Trading Cards LLC. According to the complaint, Liberty Mutual agreed that the allegations in Leaf’s suit triggered coverage under Upper Deck’s policy and acknowledged its duty to defend and Upper Deck’s right to independent counsel. However, Liberty Mutual stopped paying the defense fees of one of the firms Upper Deck hired, and also failed to pay the fees of a different firm.

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On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit found that Lloyd’s syndicates may not subrogate against an additional insured and may not force that additional insured to arbitration. Lloyd’s Syndicate 457 v. FloaTEC, LLC, No. 17-20550 (5th Cir. Apr. 17, 2019).

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The Eleventh Circuit has reversed an insurer’s award of summary judgment after finding that uncertainty about when the alleged property damage occurred raised questions about whether the damage came within the scope of the “Your Work” exclusion. More specifically, the court found unclear whether the damage occurred before or after the contractor abandoned the job, thereby triggering an exception to the “Your Work” exclusion for damage to work that had “not yet been completed or abandoned.”  The decision illustrates how timing can be a critical factor when it comes to triggering coverage for work and completed operations.

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The Southern District of Georgia recently ruled that Evanston Insurance Company is not entitled to summary judgment on whether its policies’ pollution exclusion bars coverage for the release of nitrogen into a warehouse. The case stems from an incident at Xytex Tissue Services, LLC’s warehouse, where Xytex stored biological material at low temperatures. Xytex used an on-site “liquid nitrogen delivery system” to keep the material properly cooled. This system releases liquid nitrogen, which would vaporize into nitrogen gas and cool the biological material. On February 5, 2017, a Xytex employee, Deputy Greg Meagher, entered the warehouse to investigate activated motion detectors and burglar alarms. Deputy Meagher was overcome by nitrogen gas and died as a result. Following Deputy Meagher’s death, his heirs filed suit against Xytex and other defendants. Evanston denied coverage based on the pollution exclusion in its policy. Evanston then brought a declaratory judgment action to confirm its coverage position.

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A recent First Circuit ruling underscores that a well-negotiated insurance policy can cover claims for which state law has no remedy. In Starr Surplus Lines Ins. Co. v. Mountaire Farms Inc., Starr Surplus Lines Insurance Company insured AdvancePierre Foods Inc., a maker of ready-to-eat lunches and sandwiches. In 2015, a string of salmonella outbreaks were linked to chicken in AdvancePierre’s products, prompting AdvancePierre to recall more than 1.7 million pounds of chicken. The recall cost AdvancePierre over $10 million, which Starr covered under AdvancePierre’s product-contamination policy.

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On March 22, 2019, a federal judge in Michigan found in Alticor Global Holdings, Inc. v. America Int’l Specialty Lines Ins. Co., that claims of copyright infringement by several major record labels are potentially covered under liability policies issued by AIG.  Alticor involved a claim for coverage stemming from suits by a group of entertainment companies against Amway, “accusing it of infringing hundreds of copyrighted sound recordings.”  Amway sought coverage from its umbrella insurer, AIG.  AIG claimed that the personal injury and advertising injury coverage did not apply because “coverage extends only to advertisements of a Named Insured,” i.e., Amway, and the underlying suit related to advertisements of Amway independent business owners.

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In a March 6, 2019 article appearing in Law360, Hunton insurance team partner, Syed Ahmad, commented on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent reinforcement of a general liability insurer’s broad duty to defend in West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ixthus Med. Supply, Inc.  In the article, Ahmad noted that “the ruling puts some real teeth into the broad duty to defend standard."  A deeper analysis of the decision is discussed in our March 8, 2019 blog post, in which we analyze the court’s reasoning behind its refusal to allow the insurer to escape its duty to defend by relying on the knowing ...

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The Georgia Supreme Court ruled this week that First Acceptance Insurance Co. need not pay a $5.3 million excess judgment against its insured, Ronald Jackson.  First Acceptance Ins. Co. of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes, No. S18G0517, 2019 WL 1103831 (Ga. Mar. 11, 2019), even though Jackson’s insurer could have settled the claim for Jackson’s $50,000 policy limits.

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In a March 13, 2019 article appearing in Law360, Hunton Insurance team head, Walter Andrews, explains the adverse impact of a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that attempts to clarify the rules governing settlement of insured liability claims under Georgia law.  As Walter explains, however, the decision stands to hinder settlements and potentially subject innocent insureds to staggering liability beyond that covered by their insurance.  In First Acceptance Ins. Co. of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that policyholders must make a “valid offer” – that is, one that contains definite time limits and other terms - before an insurance company is required to settle.  As Walter told Law360, the court took “an overly narrow approach” that is “disturbing and is likely to act as a deterrent to settlements in the future.” He goes on to explain that insurance companies will actually have less incentive to settle, “which means that fewer cases will settle and cases will linger longer in court, which is not in the interests of either the injured parties or the insured defendants.”

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court held last week in West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ixthus Med. Supply, Inc., that West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. (“West Bend”) could not escape its duty to defend by relying on the knowing violation and criminal acts exclusions in a commercial general liability policy issued to Ixthus Medical Supply, Inc. (“Ixthus”).  The court required the insurer to defend notwithstanding underlying allegations that Ixthus acted wrongfully and knowingly in defrauding Abbott Laboratories (“Abbott”).

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In January we wrote about Rosen Millennium Inc.’s (“Millennium”) appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, whereby Millennium took the position that a Florida federal court ignored well established Florida insurance law when it ruled that St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. had no duty to defend it against a multimillion dollar claim arising out of a 2016 cybersecurity breach.

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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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The Wisconsin Supreme Court held last week in Steadfast Ins. Co. v. Greenwich Ins. Co. that two insurers must contribute proportionally to the defense of an additional insured under their comprehensive liability policies.

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The Texas Supreme Court has reversed a lower appellate court decision and found that insurers of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. cannot use their own policy wording to avoid coverage for more than $100 million of Anadarko’s defense costs stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Law360 interviewed Hunton’s Sergio F. Oehninger about the substantial impact the decision will have for policyholders in Texas and elsewhere.  Oehninger explained how the decision corrects fundamental errors by the lower court in the construction of insurance policies and how it illustrates the proper way to construe words chosen by the insurer that operate to limit or preclude coverage.  In the Anadarko matter, the London market policy contained a “joint venture” provision that capped joint venture liabilities at $37.5 million.  The insures applied the cap after paying that amount to Anadarko.  The Texas Supreme Court rejected the insurers’ argument and the decision of the court below, finding that the joint venture provision applies only to “liabilities” – that is, amounts Anadarko becomes legally obligated to pay to a third party.  Defense costs, in contrast, are not amounts paid to a third party and, thus, are not “liabilities” within the context of the joint venture provision.  The Court also drew on other policy provisions to support the distinction, including provisions that specifically refer separately to “liabilities” and “defense expenses.”  “The Texas Supreme Court’s reversal of the appellate panel’s ruling serves as a clear pronouncement of both insurance policy construction rules and proper appellate review in Texas,” Oehninger said.  “In this regard, the Supreme Court’s opinion serves to ‘right the ship’ and bring Texas case law back in line with precedent.”

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