Posts in Property.
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Exercising its newly expanded jurisdiction that now permits Virginia’s intermediate appellate courts to hear insurance coverage disputes, the Court of Appeals recently reversed a lower court decision that allowed a two-year “Suits Against Us” provision to serve as a basis for an insurer’s refusal to reimburse repair and replacement costs incurred more than two years after the date of loss. Bowman II v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Record No. 1256-22-3 (Nov. 21, 2023). CAV (unpublished opinion).

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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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Timely notice is an important first step in a successful insurance recovery.  But insurance policies are not always straightforward in identifying how, when, and to whom notice must be provided.  Some states may also impose additional procedural hurdles, including requiring policyholders to contact their insurers before filing suit (the idea behind this requirement is that it may avoid litigation).  Failing to comply with pre-suit requirements can hurt the policyholder’s recovery, as illustrated in a recent decision from the Northern District of Texas. 

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Sanctions are an extreme remedy; frequently sought, but seldom granted.  Such was the case in Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP’s action on behalf of hotel and casino, Treasure Island, LLC (“Treasure Island”), against Affiliated FM Insurance Company (“AFM”) in federal court in Nevada, where AFM “hid” documents which refute the insurer’s defense on the central disputed issue in Treasure Island’s case—and many more actions seeking insurance coverage for losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.  A copy of the sanctions order can be found here.

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In Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. v. BAS Holding Corp., the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected an insurer’s “insupportable” defense that the insured company had breached its duty to cooperate by refusing the insurer’s request for an examination under oath of the company’s president. The decision is a reminder that, while examinations under oath can be effective tools to allow the insurer to properly investigate a claim, an insured’s duty to cooperate is not boundless and does not demand attendance at examinations that are not reasonably requested.

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

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

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On August 21, 2023, Southern California was hit by its first tropical storm since 1997.  The remnants of Hurricane Hilary brought record-breaking rainfall and knocked out power for thousands of Californians. This storm follows devastating wildfires in Maui, which killed over 110 people, and hot tub temperatures off the coast of Florida: the ocean reached 101 degrees (it should be just 74-88 degrees). The ocean’s record temperatures may strengthen the severity and prolong the season of this year’s hurricanes, which already plague Florida. According to an Accuweather meteorologist, the warm weathers are “just inviting a big system to hit the state again this year.” His prediction may prove true: Tropical Storm Idalia, expected to strengthen into a major hurricane, is scheduled to hit Tampa on Wednesday.

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

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Fine art collections—both public and private—are concentrated in disaster-prone areas like California and Florida, where wealthy individuals often retire. And as the impacts of extreme weather ravage west coast forests and east coast beaches, art collectors in high-risk areas watch their insurance premiums swell and coverage shrink.

Time 8 Minute Read

This insurance coverage story begins like any other: an insurance company (Ironshore Specialty) issued a business insurance policy to a North Carolina hotel (RPG Hospitality). The policy provided coverage for wind-driven rain, but the most Ironshore would pay for such a claim was “the Wind Driven Rain Sub-Limit of Liability shown in the Sub-Limit Provision Endorsement.” However, the Ironshore policy contained no Sub-Limit Provision Endorsement. Ironshore testified that it left the endorsement out of the policy by mistake; RPG contended that it was intentionally omitted. After Hurricane Florence struck the insured hotel, causing severe damage, RPG tendered a claim and enlisted the assistance of an Ironshore adjuster in coordinating the demolition and repair work. The Ironshore adjuster, aware that the policy did not contain the relevant sub-limit endorsement, approved the work, which exceeded the purported sub-limit by millions of dollars. When Ironshore refused to pay, a lawsuit followed.

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The hurdles policyholders have faced with the appraisal process in Florida are far from over. In the past, many Florida courts have limited the scope for appraisal, strictly construing the policy provision against the policyholder. Yet, recently, in Positano Place at Naples I Condominium Association, Inc., et al. v. Empire Indemnity Insurance Company, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed an insurer’s appeal of the district court’s ruling compelling appraisal and a stay of a pending litigation.  

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

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

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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.

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Blockchain technology has been touted as inherently reliable for years. More recently, collectors of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have explored expanded uses for that novel technology. Some courts have bought in and, in doing so, recently authorized a use that perhaps no one had imagined when NFTs first entered the mainstream: service of process.

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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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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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As we have discussed in prior parts of this series, the insurance industry has developed an array of policies specifically tailored to cover cryptocurrency claims, and some of these policies may also cover certain NFT claims. Separate and apart from these tailored policies, policyholders with NFT claims also may look to traditional forms of insurance. 

NFTs are collectible and one of a kind, yet digital. The most common NFT is a type of visual art image like a digital painting, a photograph or generative designs (created by artificial intelligence). However, this high-level definition doesn’t do justice to just how pervasive these have become. In addition to traditional artwork, there are:

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Several of the largest brokers have developed a considerable bench. For example, Marsh has a Digital Asset Risk Team (DART);[1] Lockton has its Lockton Emerging Asset Protection Team (LEAP)[2] and Aon and others have their own teams.[3]

There are multiple advantages to procuring cryptocurrency insurance through brokers that have deep experience in this particular area of insurance. These may include:

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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.”

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Last week’s discussion focused on the evolution of the insurance marketplace for digital assets. This section focuses on the marketplace as it now exists, providing examples of products being bought by companies and consumers facing cryptocurrency risks. 

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In the 18th Century, underwriting desks at what came to be known as Lloyd’s of London were developed to share or transfer risks associated with shipping.[1] Availability of risk sharing, or insurance, provided protection for maritime investors and facilitated increased levels of investment and thus increased levels of maritime activity. Risk transfer has become an essential part of the development of a marketplace for many products. 

In the early years of cryptocurrency, there were no insurance products specifically designed to cover cryptocurrency-related losses. Much like the presence of insurance fosters development of a marketplace, the absence of insurance hinders it.

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In the early years of cryptocurrency, there were no crypto-specific insurance coverages. Instead, policyholders sustaining losses were left to try to access coverage under traditional insurance policies such as:

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

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

The ...

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

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

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Who can incur losses associated with cryptocurrency or digital assets? The real question is who uses them. 

Among the most obvious users would be exchanges in which cryptocurrency is traded. It has been reported that the largest insurance market in the cryptocurrency industry consists of exchanges that insure against thefts from cryptocurrency hackers. Among the more prominent exchanges are Coinbase, Crypto.com and Gemini. Similarly obvious are the third-party custodians that store cryptocurrency and other forms of digital assets on consumers behalf such as BNY Mellon Crypto Currency or Fidelity Digital Assets. They provide safekeeping of digital assets including keys and ensure accessibility. 

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Crypto markets are experiencing the greatest crash in their history to date. The value of a Bitcoin (BTC) has plummeted 70% from its peak and Ethereum (ETH) has fallen 77%. Since last November, the value of cryptocurrency tokens has lost $2 billion in value.[1] As noted financial publication Barron’s put it: “Crypto is having a ‘Lehman moment,’ a shattering of confidence triggered by plunging asset prices, liquidity freezing up, and billions of dollars wiped out in a few scary weeks.”[2] Cryptocurrency companies are halting withdrawals and transfers, platforms are seizing up, and regulators are circling.[3]

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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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From IRS rulings that “virtual currency” is taxed as “property” to an SEC lawsuit claiming that digital assets are “securities” under federal law, meteoric growth of the largely unregulated crypto industry has raised numerous questions about whether crypto-related risks are covered by insurance. In the latest example of the intersection of crypto and insurance, a California federal court recently held that cryptocurrency stolen from a Coinbase account did not constitute a covered loss under a homeowner’s insurance policy. The fundamental issue was whether the stolen crypto met the policy’s requirement for “direct physical loss to property” and, more specifically, whether the losses were “physical” in nature. The court ruled against coverage, reasoning that lost control of cryptocurrency is not a direct physical loss as a matter of California law.

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Despite the seemingly calm tropics, hurricane season is still going strong and will be for another two months. Is your business prepared in the event a hurricane hits? Andrea DeField and Alice Weeks recently published an article in Risk Management Magazine which is full of tips to minimize losses and maximize recovery in the event of a hurricane, including reviewing your coverages, assessing and mitigating damage, and submitting a timely and proper claim. Click here for more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recently, Florida’s First District Court of Appeals handed down a victory for policyholders when it affirmed a Circuit Court’s order compelling an insurer to produce its underwriting manual in a breach of contract action.   In People’s Trust Insurance Co. v. Foster, No. 1D21-845 (Fla. 1st DCA Jan. 26, 2022), the policyholder, Mr. Foster, filed a breach of contract claim against his insurer, People’s Trust, after People’s Trust failed to pay his insurance claim for damage caused to Mr. Foster’s home due to a leaking water pipe. People’s Trust denied Foster’s claim because “Foster’s pipe damage predated the policy’s inception.”

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

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

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

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

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It happens every year. A clearly covered loss occurs and for one reason or another, the policyholder delays in notifying its insurer of the loss. Usually, the cause for the delay is innocent. It may even appear to be justified, such as where the insured prioritizes steps to save its property, inventory or assist dependent customers. But no matter the reason, insurers can be hard-lined in their refusal to accept an untimely claim. This is especially true in states that presume prejudice to the insurer, or where the insurer need not show prejudice at all.

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

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

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The Northern District of New York recently awarded summary judgment to insurer Affiliated Factory Mutual Insurance Co. against Mohawk Gaming Enterprises, a casino and resort operated by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe located on the border of New York and Canada. Mohawk Gaming sued AFM seeking recovery of business income losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In granting the insurer’s motion, however, the court failed to consider all parts of the AFM policy, as required under New York law, and failed to afford meaning to specific language contained in the policy’s two communicable disease sections, each of which specifically contemplate that “communicable disease,” as defined and covered under the AFM policy, can cause loss and damage to property. Instead, the court followed other decisions from “numerous courts around the country,” each of which is based on inherently flawed reasoning (e.g., reliance on cases where no presence of virus was alleged or cases that clearly and broadly excluded loss caused by virus), to conclude that the presence of virus “is insufficient to trigger coverage when the policy’s language requires physical loss or physical damage.” In fact, a federal court in Texas recently rejected the very same reasoning employed in Mohawk Gaming after recognizing that the FM/AFM policy form “is much broader than [others] and expressly covers loss and damage caused by ‘communicable disease.’” See Cinemark Holdings, Inc. v. Factory Mut. Ins. Co., No. 4:21-cv-00011 (E.D. Tex. May 5, 2021).

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Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the Southern District of New York’s award of over $2 million to policyholder, Fabrique Innovations, Inc., against its ocean cargo insurance carrier, Federal Insurance Company.

Federal issued an “all-risk” ocean cargo insurance policy to Fabrique for fabric and plush merchandise “temporarily in storage” at a warehouse owed by Hancock Fabrics. Fabrique’s goods were lost when Hancock liquidated its holdings—including Fabrique’s merchandise—as part of Hancock’s bankruptcy proceedings. Following the loss, Fabrique filed a claim under its policy with Federal. Federal denied the claim, citing various exclusions, including an exclusion for “loss, damage or expense caused by or resulting from willful misconduct, fraud or deceit,” which the insurer argued was triggered due to Hancock’s sale of the goods in violation of the parties’ third-party logistics agreement.

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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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New Jersey’s highest court heard arguments Monday in the appeal of a ruling that the New Jersey Transit Corp.’s (“NJ Transit”) insurers are required to insure $400 million of water damage loss caused by Hurricane Sandy.

The matter stems from an insurance claim NJ Transit made after the super storm rocked the East Coast in 2012. NJ Transit claimed over $400 million in losses as a result of damage to its tracks, bridges, tunnels and power stations. In response, its tower of property insurers took the position that a $100 million flood sublimit applied to limit NJ Transit’s recovery under its insurance tower, not the policy’s $400 million overall limits.

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

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In American Reliable Insurance Company v. Lancaster, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a property insurer’s summary judgment motion concerning the insurer’s denial of a fire loss claim.  The basis of the denial was that the policyholders had failed to pay the policy premium.  The policyholders, Charlie and Wanda Lancaster, claimed that they had paid their policy premiums for several years to their insurance agent, Macie Yawn.  In October 2014, American Reliable mailed a renewal notice to the Lancasters notifying them that premium payments had to be made directly to the insurer.  After it did not receive payment from the Lancasters, American Reliable sent them a cancellation notice in December 2014, again notifying them that payments be made directly to the insurer.  The Lancasters denied having received either notice from American Reliable, but the record included a receipt for certificate of mailing.

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

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

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

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

The FCA Test Case

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

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

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On June 29, in a development that may fundamentally change the landscape for California businesses which have sustained COVID-19 related business interruption loss, two California legislators amended pending legislation to address several of the most hotly contested issues regarding insurance recovery for these devastating losses.

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

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

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

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Pennsylvania’s highest court recently rejected Erie Insurance Exchange’s argument that it had no duty to defend a claim arising out of a shooting because it did not involve an accident, and therefore, there was no “occurrence” under the policy. The court held that the duty to defend was triggered because the underlying allegations were not “patently outside the policy coverage.” This decision can have far reaching effects on other kinds of claims involving intentional conduct.

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

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The CDC reports that, as of the end of last week, the coronavirus disease had spread through China and to 31 other countries and territories, including the United States, which has now seen its first two related deaths. The public health response in the United States has been swift and includes travel advisories, heightened airport screening, and repatriation and quarantine of potentially infected individuals. Outside the United States, countries like China, Italy, and South Korea have implemented more severe measures to combat the disease. From smart phones to automobiles, coronavirus has major short- and long-term implications for public and private companies facing potentially significant supply chain disruptions, store and office closures, and other logistical issues. These business losses, however, may be covered by insurance. Below are several key insurance considerations for policyholders to contemplate when evaluating the availability of insurance coverage for coronavirus-driven losses.

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A Maryland federal court recently awarded summary judgment to National Ink and Stitch, finding coverage for a cyber-attack under a non-cyber insurance policy after the insured’s server and networked computer system were damaged as a result of a ransomware attack.  We discussed the significance of the decision in a January 27 blog post that can be found here.

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A Maryland federal court awarded summary judgment last week to policyholder National Ink in National Ink and Stitch, LLC v. State Auto Property And Casualty Insurance Company, finding coverage for a cyber-attack under a non-cyber insurance policy after the insured’s server and networked computer system were damaged as a result of a ransomware attack.  This is significant because it demonstrates that insureds can obtain insurance coverage for cyber-attacks even if they do not have a specific cyber insurance policy.

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A New York appellate court recently held that renewable bio-diesel fuel manufacturer BioEnergy Development Group LLC may pursue tens of millions of dollars in damages from its insurers under two all-risk insurance policies, including amounts in excess of the policy limits, where the insurers refused to pay claims in a timely manner.

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Hunton Insurance Coverage practice partner Michael Levine will be speaking in an upcoming Strafford live webinar, "Depreciation of Labor in Property Insurance Claims: Guidance From Recent Cases," scheduled for Wednesday, October 30, 1:00pm-2:30pm EDT.

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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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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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The Eleventh Circuit recently found that an insured had not paid enough to satisfy its policy’s deductible and would thus be required to pay more before coverage would be available. The court’s holding turned on the meaning of a “tenants and neighbors” provision that extended coverage, but only for claims arising in countries that apply a civil law system. As explained below, this ruling underscores the value of retaining experienced coverage counsel to identify potential gaps and deficiencies in coverage.

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Following a six-day trial, a Texas jury found that Great American Insurance Company breached its policy with a hydraulic fracturing company and engaged in unfair settlement practices when it refused to pay for loss the company sustained in a well accident. The decision highlights the need to vigorously pursue coverage using all information available and the benefits of leveraging state statutory protections governing unfair claims settlement practices to ensure that insurers handle claims in a prompt, fair, and reasonable manner.

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

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

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A federal appeals court reversed an auto parts manufacturer’s summary judgment win, construing a policy limitation on flood hazards to apply broadly to all types of losses, even though the limit “does not expressly say what losses it limits.” In Federal-Mogul LLC v. Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, manufacturer Federal-Mogul suffered more than $60 million in property and time-element losses following a 2011 flood in one of its factories in Thailand. Federal-Mogul submitted a claim to its insurer, but the insurer refused to pay more than $30 million because the flood occurred in a high hazard flood zone, to which the insurer argued a sublimit in the policy applied.

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A coverage dispute arising as a result of property damage from Hurricane Frances, which occurred in 2004, will continue following a Florida appellate court decision in an action brought against Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

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The Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to construe an ambiguous definition of actual cash value to allow for deduction of labor costs as part of depreciation calculations where that subset of repair costs are not clearly addressed in the policy. Despite the split of authority nationwide, the Tennessee case presents a straightforward application of policy interpretation principles to a common valuation issue in first-party property claims.

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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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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 Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision yesterday finding no coverage for fire damage to a building is a cautionary tale for companies acquiring other companies. Erie Ins. Exch. v. EPC MD 15, LLC, 2019 WL 238168 (Va. Jan. 17, 2019). In that case, Erie Insurance issued a property insurance policy to EPC. The policy covered EPC only and did not cover any subsidiaries of EPC. EPC then acquired the sole member interest in Cyrus Square, LLC.  Following the acquisition, fire damaged a building that Cyrus Square owned.

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Gatwick airport has been shut down since Wednesday night UK time due to the presence of multiple drones around the perimeter of the runway. A drone was first spotted Wednesday evening in the vicinity of Gatwick’s runway. After being briefly re-opened several hours later, the runway was shut down for good when several more drones were discovered. Given the public safety risk of attempting to shoot the drones down from the ground, law enforcement is instead focusing on identifying and apprehending the drone operators to ensure that the area is safe for air travel.

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

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The Second Circuit recently held that competing “anti-concurrent cause” provisions in a commercial property policy present a potential ambiguity that could result in favor of coverage for losses sustained by Madelaine Chocolate after storm surge from Hurricane Sandy combined to cause substantial damage to Madelaine’s property and a resulting loss of income.

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In what appears to be a case of first impression, an Ohio trial court ruled in Kimmelman v. Wayne Insurance Group, that the crypto-currency, Bitcoin, constitutes personal property in the context of a first-party homeowners’ insurance policy and, therefore, its theft would not be subject to the policy’s $200 sublimit for loss of “money.”

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

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

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The Sixth Circuit recently upheld dismissal of KVG Properties, Inc.’s claims under a first-party property policy arising from damage to KVG’s office spaces due to tenants’ use of cannabis growing operations. We have been tracking the KVG case closely and previously reported on KVG’s initial appeal and Westfield’s retort on why the district court correctly dismissed the claims. Although there was no coverage for KVG under the particular facts of this case, the Sixth Circuit’s decision raises several important insurance issues for policyholders to consider and previews likely battlegrounds for future cannabis coverage disputes, many of which are precipitated by the variances in federal and state cannabis law.

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As reported yesterday in Business Insurance, Lloyd’s of London underwriters have agreed to insure digital currency storage company, Kingdom Trust Co., against theft and destruction of cryptocurrency assets.  The cover comes after almost a decade-long search by Kingdom Trust for insurance to cover its crypto-assets.  According to the BI, Kingdom Trust sees the availability of insurance as a key factor in bringing institutional investors into the marketplace by dispelling concerns about lack of traditional safeguards in the emerging crypto-asset space.

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The California Department of Insurance recently approved three new insurance carriers to provide coverage for the emerging cannabis industry. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced last week that The North River Insurance Company, United States Fire Insurance Company, and White Pine Insurance Company will all begin offering surety bonds for cannabis businesses by the end of the month.

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A Connecticut court recently denied a motion to compel appraisal of a claim for coverage of a commercial property damage claim, holding that, where the insurance policy at issue provides for appraisal of disputes related to the value or quantum or a loss suffered—not the rights and liabilities of the parties under the policy—appraisal is premature. The decision relied on law that equates insurance appraisal to arbitration and follows a number of decisions holding that parties cannot expand the scope of appraisal clauses to resolve questions of coverage or liability where, as in this case, those issues are not supported by the applicable policy language.

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Last month, we reported on the ongoing insurance coverage dispute between commercial landlord KVP Properties, Inc. and its property insurer, Westfield Insurance Company. The dispute arises from an October 2015 DEA raid on KVG-owned rental units in Novi, Michigan, which uncovered damage to the units related to the tenants’ marijuana growing operations. The arguments raised by KVG on appeal highlight a number of important marijuana-related coverage issues, which Westfield has now addressed in opposition.

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

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Commercial landlord KVG Properties Inc. has appealed a district court summary judgment ruling dismissing its claims under a first-party property policy issued by Westfield Insurance Company, arguing that the district court improperly rejected its claim because KVG’s tenants’ use of the property for marijuana growing operations was illegal under federal law. The appeal underscores the growing divide between state and federal marijuana laws and raises several important insurance coverage issues that will likely continue in the future.

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