In the last decade, per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS) increasingly have become the subject of actual or potential liability for a widening group of companies, with potential liability arising from both private tort lawsuits and governmental enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. In a recent Practical Guidance® Practice Note, Insurance Coverage for PFAS Liability, our colleague Tamara Bruno provides a comprehensive breakdown of this rapidly growing area of coverage need.
A Missing Issue in “Blank Space” Insurance Ruling
Insurance coverage disputes often turn on the meaning of the specific words used in a policy. Norwegian Hull Club v. North Star Fishing Co., currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, presents a twist—it turns on the meaning of a blank space.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled that neither the policyholder nor the insurer was entitled to summary judgment regarding the interpretation of a critical policy provision, reasoning that an empty field rendered the clause ambiguous. But as the case now proceeds to trial, the most interesting part of the district court’s opinion might be its own blank space: contra proferentem, the argument it doesn’t address.
States Show Increased Initiative on PFAS Regulation
In North Carolina, California, Wisconsin and Illinois Sue Companies over PFAS “Forever Chemicals Contamination, colleagues Reza Zarghamee, Mark J. Plumer, Jillian Marullo, Rebecca M. Lee and Ashley L. Meredith examine the lawsuits, along with new state prohibitions and reporting requirements imposed on manufacturers and distributors of products containing PFAS, that signal increased initiative by states to regulate PFAS.
The Higher the Value, the Greater the Loss: The Importance of Updating Building Values in Inflationary Times
Earlier in 2022, CBRE forecasted a 14.1% year-over-year increase in construction costs by year-end 2022, as labor and material costs continue to rise, despite the expectation that overall cost inflation for materials would begin to cool by the end of the year. Commercial construction costs have indeed increased, as Turner Construction Company’s Third Quarter 2022 Building Cost Index reported an 8.62% yearly increase from the third quarter of 2021, a 2.18% quarterly increase from the second quarter of 2022. In addition to supply chain issues for building materials, skilled labor shortages and construction wage growth persists.
Closing Up the SPAC Shop: Insurance Consequences and Opportunities for Liquidating SPACs
In 2020 and 2021, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) were all the rage. A SPAC is a “blank check company,” publicly traded, and organized for the purpose of merging with a private company. It’s a mechanism for a private operating company to go public without doing its own IPO. Though SPACs have existed for decades, their use skyrocketed in the last couple years. While insurers, brokers and attorneys have developed a level of expertise on risks and insurance coverage in connection with SPAC formation and completed de-SPAC transactions, the insurance implications of failed SPACs was not addressed in 2020 and 2021 and is still not fully understood or appreciated.
Casting a Skeptical Eye on Claims of “Social Inflation”
In “Policyholders Are Not to Blame for Social Inflation,” a recent article for Law360, Benjamin Tievsky explains why policyholders should be extremely skeptical of social inflation arguments put forward by the insurance industry.
When Actual Knowledge Is Not Notice: Harvard Loses Excess Coverage for Defense Costs in Case Litigated All the Way to Supreme Court
Recently, amid the tempest of media coverage surrounding Supreme Court oral arguments in the case of Students for Fair Admission v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, another federal court quietly issued a dispositive order in related coverage litigation, holding that Harvard’s excess carrier, Zurich, had no coverage obligation in the underlying case because Harvard did not provide timely notice under a “claims-made-and-reported” policy. The case is President and Fellows of Harvard College v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 1:21-cv-11530-ADB (D. Mass.).
Weathering Economic Turbulence: Assignment of Insurance Claims for Losses Under Russian Sanctions
The Russia/Ukraine conflict has led to a monumental decoupling of Russia from the global economy, with dire consequences for many industries—including the aircraft leasing industry. Western governments’ still-evolving sanctions regime has inspired retaliatory decrees by the Russian Federation, which collectively have engendered significant financial losses for companies doing business with Russian entities. As we previously reported, Western companies leasing an estimated $10 billion worth of aircraft to Russian airlines are facing a total loss of their property. Western governments have ordered lessors to repossess aircraft, but a Russian Federation decree mandates that Russian airlines not return (or “export”) such aircraft to their Western owners.
California and New York to Open One-Year Windows Reviving Time-Barred Adult Sexual Assault Claims
Four months ago, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) (S.66A/A.648A), creating a one-year window, beginning November 24, 2022, for adult survivors of sexual assault to bring civil claims against their alleged attackers which otherwise would have been time barred. On September 19, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an equivalent law, the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act (AB-2777), which similarly suspends the statute of limitations for civil claims of sexual assault and other vicarious offenses arising out of that conduct starting January 1, 2023. These laws will likely generate a surge of litigation in California and New York, undoubtedly impacting many businesses operating there. Many, if not most, of those companies will look to insurers to furnish legal defenses and to financially support settlements or damage awards based on past policies.
Strengthening Corporate Officer Protection: Delaware’s Updated Corporate Exculpation Law and Its Impact on D&O Liability Insurance
As the preferred place of incorporation for most U.S. companies, Delaware has long been a leader in the development of statutory and common law on corporate governance. In keeping with this role, the Delaware legislature recently amended its corporate code to permit enhanced legal exculpation of officers of Delaware corporations. Let’s look at this amendment and its implications for D&O insurance.