Posts in COVID-19.
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. 

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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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In a COVID-19 insurance coverage lawsuit that Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc. filed against several insurers in Nevada state court, two recent rulings in favor of Hilton highlight the importance of strategic decisions early in a case. 

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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.

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

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

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A Texas jury has found that the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus on the property of Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) caused “physical loss or damage” and resulting economic loss, triggering coverage under BCM’s commercial property insurance program. The jury awarded BCM over $48 million following a three-day trial; the award consisted of $42.8 million in business interruption, $3.3 million in extra expense, and $2.3 million in damage to research projects.

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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).

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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.

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

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Another state court has issued a ruling favoring insurance policyholders in a COVID-19 business interruption dispute. This decision further confirms the trend of state courts recognizing the potential for coverage where many federal courts have not.

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

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

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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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On Wednesday, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP insurance partner Mike Levine testified before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Financial Services in support of a bill that takes aim at insurers’ argument that their policies do not cover losses caused by COVID-19 or government-issued closure orders. Passage of H.1079 would give business owners in Massachusetts a fair chance to show otherwise: that their all-risk insurance policies, for which they paid substantial annual premiums, do indeed cover business income losses and extra operating expenses incurred because of the pandemic.

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

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

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

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In March, we reported on the initial filing of several securities class action suits arising from the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). For example, at the start of the pandemic, shareholders of Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings, Ltd. filed a class action alleging that the company and certain officers violated the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. The lawsuit alleged that the cruise line made false and misleading statements about COVID-19 in order to persuade consumers to purchase cruises. This allegedly caused the share prices to be cut in half.

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

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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.

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

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

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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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As we reported in a prior blog, on August 14, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation rejected plaintiffs’ request for a consolidation of all COVID-19 insurance coverage federal litigation, agreeing to consider mini-MDLs as respects five specific insurers, which accounted for roughly one-third of the federal cases. On October 2, the Panel rejected the concept of mini-MDLs as respects four of these five insurers and accepted an MDL for the fifth insurer.

At the outset, the Panel agreed with plaintiffs that each of the proposed mini-MDLs presented common legal and factual ...

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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).

Time 9 Minute Read

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

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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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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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Hunton special counsel Scott DeVries was quoted August 14 in a Bloomberg Law article titled “More Virus Insurance Suits Could Follow as Consolidation Fails.” The article discussed a federal panel’s refusal to centralize hundreds of businesses’ lawsuits against their insurers over pandemic-related coverage. Elaborating on the ruling, DeVries observed that “Insurance contracts are a matter of state law interpretation, so I would be surprised if there weren’t different rulings in different jurisdictions. You could see how some policyholders might have held off on ...
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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.

Time 6 Minute Read

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.

Time 3 Minute Read

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.

Time 1 Minute Read
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 ...
Time 4 Minute Read

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.

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 2 Minute Read

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

Time 1 Minute Read

The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the American economy has forced many businesses of all sizes and in all industries to seek some form of financial relief. Perhaps the most prominent source is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (commonly known as the CARES Act), which provides more than $2 trillion in assistance through the largest economic stimulus package passed by Congress in U.S. history. In a recent article published by ABA Business Law Section’s Business Law Today, Hunton Andrews Kurth insurance attorneys Syed S. Ahmad and Cary D. Steklof discuss ...

Time 3 Minute Read

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.

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 1 Minute Read
Much ink has been spilled about legislators' efforts to protect businesses by ensuring business interruption coverage for losses involving COVID-19. Many have questioned the constitutionality of any such laws. But, as explained in this Law360 article by Hunton attorneys Syed Ahmad and Patrick McDermott, those questions overlook two provisions commonly found in property insurance policies. In short, the provisions recognize the possibility that the insurance contract may conflict with statutes and regulations and incorporate any such conflicting law into the policy ...
Time 1 Minute Read
Much of the commentary on insurance issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis, including multiple posts on this blog, understandably has focused on recovery under first-party property policies providing business interruption coverage for losses incurred due to office closures, government orders, extra expenses, and other direct costs experienced by employers. There is a much broader range of possible claim scenarios arising from COVID-19 that may go to other kinds of coverages, however; most notably directors and officers liability, management liability, fiduciary ...
Time 1 Minute Read

Masters and Levine submitted the following “letter to the editor” in the April 7th, 2020 edition of the Washington Post to tell the other side of the story.

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 1 Minute Read
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 ...
Time 1 Minute Read
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.  ...
Time 2 Minute Read

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.”

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 2 Minute Read

While COVID-19 occupies most of the world’s attention, cyber-criminals continue to hone their trade. Consequently, with attention diverted and business-as-usual changing daily, the recent rise in cyber-related attacks comes as no surprise. Analysts have found that companies with an increased number of employees working remotely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have witnessed a spike in malicious cyber-attacks. For example, the United States Health and Human Services Department experienced two separate cyber-attacks since the onset of COVID-19, with the attacks aimed at sowing panic and overloading the HHS servers.[1] These attacks, however, are not limited to the United States, as they have been reported across the globe. For instance, hackers launched a cyber-attack on a hospital in the Czech Republic, stalling dozens of coronavirus test results, only days after the government declared a national emergency.[2]

Time 4 Minute Read

In responding to a certified question from the Fifth Circuit in Richards v. State Farm Lloyds, the Texas Supreme Court held that the “policy-language exception” to the eight-corners rule articulated by the federal district court is not a permissible exception under Texas law.  See Richards v. State Farm Lloyds, 19-0802, 2020 WL 1313782, at *1 (Tex. Mar. 20, 2020).  The eight-corners rule generally provides that Texas courts may only consider the four corners of the petition and the four corners of the applicable insurance policy when determining whether a duty to defend exists.  State Farm argued that a “policy-language exception” prevents application of the eight-corners rule unless the insurance policy explicitly requires the insurer to defend “all actions against its insured no matter if the allegations of the suit are groundless, false or fraudulent,” relying on B. Hall Contracting Inc. v. Evanston Ins. Co., 447 F. Supp. 2d 634, 645 (N.D. Tex. 2006).  The Texas Supreme Court rejected the insurer’s argument, citing Texas’ long history of applying the eight-corners rule without regard for the presence or absence of a “groundless-claims” clause.

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 1 Minute Read
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 ...
Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 3 Minute Read

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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