As summer comes to a close, road repair crews across the country are identifying the street repairs and potholes that must be filled before the cold weather approaches. Now is also a good time for policyholders to identify some of the “potholes” that may accompany their claims-made insurance policies and get them filled before it is too late.
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, policyholders can expect insurers to put forward strong objections to some of the most consequential claims asserted by insureds. In a recent client alert, our colleagues Joe Jean, Geoffrey Greeves and Vince Morgan provided insight into business interruption insurance and dealing with the aftermath of wide-impact catastrophes.
California law has long held that an insurer may not use declaratory relief or other tactics to prejudice the defense of its policyholder in an underlying lawsuit. But in their zeal to avoid coverage, and despite California Supreme Court precedent, insurers sometimes employ tactics that actually increase their policyholder’s risk of liability in the underlying action, contrary to the very purpose of liability insurance. That was the case in the coverage action between football helmet manufacturer Riddell and its liability insurers, which is pending in California state court, where certain London Market Insurers tried to require the production of extensive discovery before that substantially identical production took place in the underlying product liability action.
An unexpected or catastrophic loss can force any company out of business, even if it is insured. You must understand your company’s risks and how your insurance policies cover those risks in order to manage them and maintain stability.
Having the correct insurance in place is only the first step. Property and business interruption insurance policies are often complex, and your suppliers, customers and other business partners’ insurance situation may have a direct impact on you as well. Even if your business doesn’t suffer any direct physical damage to its facilities following a natural disaster or other loss, your customers or suppliers may have, and that could result in what is known as a “supply chain” or “contingent business interruption” loss of revenue and sales. If you are unprepared when a disaster strikes, you may miss out on substantial amounts of insurance coverage to which you may be entitled. The time to prepare is before a disaster occurs. Take the time now to understand your insurance coverage and other risk transfer methods and opportunities. Know your rights. And put a plan in place to protect yourself, your employees, and your property before the loss occurs. Then, if disaster strikes, you’ll be in a better position to make it through and to access your insurance coverage to help restore operations.
Coverage B under traditional Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies may be the least understood coverage that nearly every company carries. Coverage B provides liability protection for claims of Personal and Advertising Injury, such as false arrest, libel or slander, and violation of a person’s right to privacy, among others. Yet with so much recent focus on cyber liability insurance and the protection that these policies can provide for the inadvertent exposure of personal information stored electronically, Coverage B gets little attention. This is mostly deserved, as many CGL policies expressly exclude coverage for the loss or exposure of electronic data, and Coverage B applies in mostly non-traditional circumstances. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that for many claims, particularly those involving non-traditional facts, Coverage B will apply.
Recent events highlight the importance and continued relevance of Coverage B. For example, a recent case in the news involves a health insurer being sued by its insureds for mailing them information regarding HIV medication in transparent envelopes, thereby exposing their identity and the medication they were seeking. The suit alleges that the insurer negligently revealed confidential information and, given the reported facts, should trigger Coverage B (as well as other coverages).
Coverage B also applies in circumstances beyond improper disclosure of confidential information. In another recent case, a developer was sued by one of its occupying tenants because construction equipment necessary to expand the development blocked the ingress and egress to the tenant’s property. The CGL insurer initially denied the developer’s request for defense, contending that there were no allegations of “personal injury” or “property damage” necessary to trigger Coverage A. The insured correctly responded that the claims brought against it included “invasion of the right to private occupancy,” thereby triggering the duty to defend under Coverage B. Upon further consideration, the CGL insurer agreed and provided the insured with a defense. The duty to defend one claim is the duty to defend all.
In another case, a general contractor working in a war zone was sued by one of its subcontractors for unpaid contract balance. In addition to seeking payment of the alleged outstanding balance, the subcontractor claimed that it was held against its will for a period of an hour by a group of armed mercenaries working on behalf of the general contractor. This allegation, although wholly unrelated to the underlying dispute of unpaid fees, was sufficient to trigger Coverage B under the general contractor’s CGL policy, providing the general contractor with defense and indemnity.
In short, Coverage B applies in many non-traditional circumstances (as well as more traditional ones), and should always be considered by companies when facing liability for claims other than “personal injury” or “property damage.”
As the powerful storm that is Hurricane Harvey looms in the Gulf of Mexico, Houston attorneys Vince Morgan and Tamara Bruno discuss what businesses and other organizations in the affected area should do immediately in order to maximize insurance recovery.
- Category 3 Hurricane Harvey is projected to have sustained winds of 120 m.p.h. and disastrous amounts of rain, with a possible storm surge.
- Business interruptions are already happening in advance of Harvey’s landfall.
- Policyholders should take key steps to maintain and maximize insurance coverage for Harvey-related losses.
In two posts earlier this year—South Carolina May No Longer Hold Insurers’ Reservations and The Insurer’s Mixed-Coverage Burden—we told you about an important decision issued by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Harleysville Group Insurance v. Heritage Communities, Inc. Those posts were written shortly after the court issued its original opinion on January 11, 2017. But on July 26, 2017, the court issued a new opinion replacing the original. So what has changed? Not much … and that’s a good thing for policyholders.
As the cliché saying goes: “When it comes to love, never settle for less than you deserve.” But when it comes to insurance coverage, sometimes settling for less than the full limits of a policy is an effective compromise that saves time and avoids costly litigation. However, if losses may reach excess policies, then policyholders should take a second look before signing on the dotted line. Excess liability policies often include a limitation requiring the “exhaustion” of underlying policy limits before excess coverage is triggered. If the policyholder settles with an underlying insurer for less than the underlying policy limits, excess insurers may dispute whether the settlement qualifies as “exhaustion.”
Every single industry or business in this day and age has either been the victim of a cyber attack or is concerned they will be next. A few examples from the last couple of months show how widespread the problem is. In June, a global ransomeware attack quickly spread across 64 countries, impacting organizations from law firms, banks and governments to food producers and hospitals. The attackers demanded $300 in Bitcoin—approximately $977,000 U.S. dollars in total—from each victim to unlock their data. At the annual DefCon computer security conference in late July, hackers took less than 90 minutes to hack voter-ballot machines and at least one hacker even broke into the system wirelessly, suggesting that U.S. computer-ballot boxes may be susceptible to attack.
The costs and penalties associated with a cyber attack or data breach should not be underestimated. For example, NPR recently calculated the average cost of a health care breach at more than $2.2 million, “not to mention the reputation damage.” And the FCC recently ordered AT&T to pay $25 million in connection with the exposure of more than 250,000 U.S. customers’ information.
Cyber insurance continues to be one of the hottest topics in the insurance industry. In the last several years it has evolved from a little-known specialty product to a standard purchase for some corporate risk departments. By now, most companies generally are aware that cyber attacks present substantial risks. Many unfortunately have first-hand experience as victims of an attack. But many companies still do not necessarily view cyber insurance as a “must-have” type of insurance, like general liability or property insurance. Some companies may believe their potential cyber exposure is minimal or simply think that cyber coverage is cost prohibitive. A recent D.C. Circuit decision is a sobering reminder that cyber insurance should at least be considered in connection with a company’s risk management plan, and is probably a “must-have” for companies that maintain records containing a substantial amount of personal information.