Insurance policies are legal documents. In the event of a dispute, their scope and meaning will be submitted to a court or arbitrator for interpretation. Most brokers are not attorneys. Most risk managers are not attorneys. And few companies seek counsel to review policies before a claim arises. But underwriters, assisted by their counsel, increasingly are including litigation-focused provisions in their policies. Although these provisions often appear innocuous to readers unfamiliar with insurance litigation issues, they are like time bombs designed to explode in the event of a contested, litigated claim.
As coverage counsel, we witness firsthand the precarious positions policyholders are often left in due to the actions (or inactions) of their insurance carriers. A prime example of such a catch-22 scenario is when an insurer refuses to consent to a settlement offer while defending under a reservation of rights.
In “Potential Insurance Coverage for Looted Cannabis Dispensaries in California and Beyond,” our colleague Benjamin D. Tievsky explains how affected businesses can look to their commercial property policies for potential property damage and business interruption coverage, and discusses coverage issues insurers may attempt to raise.
Times of crisis can bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, times like this can also be an opportunity for exploitation of inexpensive, and potentially forced, labor. As America reopens its economy, it is likely that we will begin to see a surge in many industries. The resulting demand for labor, coupled with unprecedented unemployment and related desperation not only in America, but worldwide, could lead unscrupulous individuals and companies to exploit American and foreign workers. We saw this with previous disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, where foreign laborers were exploited in the rebuilding process with false promises of citizenship. Now, to be clear, exploitation occurs even during times of economic prosperity; however, it can be even more pronounced and egregious when people must deal with uncertainties and hardships never before experienced in their lifetimes.
Many U.S. businesses face income losses from theft, vandalism and resulting curfew orders, which have affected numerous cities in recent days.
Commercial property insurance policies may provide coverage for these losses, which are and should be treated as a separate claim from pandemic-related losses. Property policies cover physical damage to property and, usually, also provide coverage for business interruption losses if certain conditions are met. Whatever position insurers may take on contamination from COVID-19, they cannot plausibly contest that shattered windows, broken fixtures and stolen merchandise are physical loss or damage. And, while insurance policies vary, typically there is business interruption coverage for “Civil Authority” orders, such as curfews requiring businesses to close. Nearly always, such coverage requires the existence of property damage within some limited geographic radius surrounding the policyholder’s location. This often ranges from one to 10 miles. So if your business is closed by a curfew order and, for example, a building down the block had its windows shattered by thrown bricks, or worse, there is every reason to submit a claim. Bear in mind that, depending on the wording of your policy, the trigger for Civil Authority coverage may not be limited to damage to buildings: it may apply to property within buildings and property in the street, potentially including vandalized vehicles. Think outside the box (store).
The profound impact of COVID-19 leading businesses to file first-party insurance claims is now well known. Further, insurance companies are systematically pushing back on potential coverage for COVID-19, with some issuing blanket coverage denials without investigation. In other words, this is not an ordinary claims environment. Against this backdrop, many policyholders are facing what may be their first significant insurance claim. This primer will familiarize such policyholders with the initial steps of the first-party insurance claims process. Whether a potential claim is related to COVID-19 or not, understanding the claims process is the best first step towards avoiding pitfalls and maximizing chances of recovery.
A couple months into the widespread shift to remote work for many employees on a temporary basis, an increasing number of companies are considering or already implementing a permanent shift to remote work for most or all of their employees. Unsurprisingly, this shift is rapidly occurring in the technology industry. For example, Twitter’s CEO announced this week that its employees will be allowed to work from home permanently. But it is also occurring across other industries, including the insurance industry. For example, Nationwide is planning to permanently exit its building space, other than four main campuses, before the end of the year and is moving its other employees to permanent remote-working status.
A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the insurance focus (understandably) has been on business interruption and event cancellation coverage. Various other coverages are in play as well, given the types of COVID-19-related claims and lawsuits being filed (and that will be filed in the future) against corporate policyholders, from bodily injury due to exposure to the virus, to breach of contract, to securities violations, to misrepresentations and consumer protection violations, just to name a few. However, cyber risks are also highly salient for companies in this “new normal,” and companies must consider the role their insurance plays in preparing for and responding to those risks.
In the uncertain times ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic, observers of the insurance law landscape can find footing in an old, familiar story: a single insured left deeply dissatisfied by her insurance provider’s coverage for an accident lawsuit against her. But in In re: Farmers Texas County Mutual Insurance Co., a novel question of settlement authority offers the chance to make new law.