The conflict between policyholders and insurers over “long-tail” insurance coverage took an unfortunate turn with a recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals on the issue of allocation for long-tail claims. On March 27, 2018, the court issued a decision in Keyspan that significantly impacts policyholders by decreasing the insurers’ proportionate share of financial responsibility and increasing the share imposed on the insured. This case involved long-term and continuous environmental contamination that began before comprehensive general liability insurance became available in the marketplace and continued, unobserved, across multiple policy periods. At issue was whether, under the “pro rata time-on-the-risk” method of allocation, Century Indemnity Company was liable to its insured, KeySpan Gas East Corporation, for years outside of its policy periods when there was no applicable insurance coverage offered on the market.
A little over two months ago, we analyzed the recent decision in Black & Veatch Corp. v. Aspen Insurance (UK) Ltd., which placed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in line with a consistently expanding number of jurisdictions finding that a subcontractor’s faulty work constitutes an “occurrence” (defined as an accident) under standard form CGL language. The Tenth Circuit’s decision emphasized the “near unanimity” of state supreme court decisions since 2012 finding that construction defects constituted an occurrence (for example, New Jersey). Days after publishing our post on the Tenth Circuit’s decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court faced the same question. But rather than join the growing trend, the Kentucky court doubled down on its previous decision addressing the issue, finding for a second time since 2010 that a contractor’s faulty workmanship was not an “occurrence” under a CGL policy.
A recent case in the Fifth Circuit, Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London v. Lowen Valley View, L.L.C., provides a valuable reminder to policyholders of the importance of promptly investigating any event that could cause damage, documenting that damage shortly after it occurs, and putting insurers on notice of the potential claim. Failure to do so could forfeit the insurance available for otherwise covered losses.
Some of the biggest pitfalls for policyholders lie camouflaged among seemingly “standard” policy conditions—often overlooked during the procurement or renewal process. This is especially true of allocation clauses, found most commonly in Directors & Officers (D&O), Errors & Omissions (E&O), and Professional Liability (PL) policies. In our policyholder-side coverage practice, we are seeing insurers relying on these clauses more and more as an excuse to pay only a small fraction of the defense in mixed-claim cases, i.e., suits involving both clearly covered claims and claims that the insurer contends are not covered. We urge policyholders and brokers to review such clauses carefully and seek to modify them as necessary to ensure the complete defense to which the policyholder is entitled under the law.
With few exceptions, an application or warranty statement is an essential document to secure insurance coverage, and can actually possess great power to determine or limit coverage. Insurers may seek renewal applications or updated warranty statements, even when a policy is merely a renewal. While the application process may seem almost ceremonial, failure to engage fully in the application and warranty process can lead to unnecessary coverage disputes, or even the loss of coverage.
By statute, California law holds that willful misconduct—where an insured intends to cause someone harm—is not insurable as a matter of public policy. For years, insurance companies have sought to expand this prohibition to exclude coverage where anyone acts deliberately, regardless of the intent of the insured, or the insured’s intent to cause harm.
Volcanoes, hurricanes, and polar vortexes—oh, my! From the ongoing eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, to huge winter storms, massive mudslides, and the unfortunately reliable hurricane season, it seems like natural disasters have been near constant over the past year. In addition to the catastrophic toll these events take on people and communities, the toll on a business can be high. Understanding the full range and implications of your company’s risks, and putting the right coverage in place to protect against those risks, is vital. When a natural disaster strikes, having appropriate levels of property damage, business interruption and contingent business interruption insurance can be three keys to stability.
Remember the “good” ol’ days when the run-of-the-mill theft involved someone physically taking something tangible? That is so 20th century. Now, thieves and fraudsters are able to use computers and the internet to carry out much more complex schemes. The insurance industry has attempted to keep up with the technological evolution in the coverage it provides, but insurers have also used unclear policy language and the complexity and individualized nature of today’s fraudulent schemes to avoid covering the resulting losses. A slew of courts over the past few years have decided whether crime policies—particularly those with a computer fraud coverage component—cover complex, technology-related fraudulent schemes. The Eleventh Circuit recently joined the fray and ruled that computer fraud coverage did not apply to a policyholder’s $11 million loss.
Developers need to keep an open mind to protect themselves against construction defect claims. Insurance is a vital tool, but it should not be the only one in a developer’s risk management toolbox.
Another useful tool—the ability to disclaim all liability for future construction defect claims when the property is sold to a third party and converted to condominiums—was recently upheld in South Carolina. In Long Grove at Seaside Farms, LLC et al. v Long Grove Property Owners’ Association Inc. et al., the South Carolina Supreme Court dismissed a previously accepted writ of certiorari as improvidently granted, thereby upholding the decisions of the trial and appellate courts dismissing defective construction claims brought by a condominium association against the original developer of an apartment complex.
Insurance agreement language that precludes coverage in CGL policies for “expected or intended” injuries has been analyzed in nearly every jurisdiction, and courts have consistently held that bodily injury or property damage is excluded only if the insurer can demonstrate resulting damage was expected or intended by the insured. In Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. Connex Railroad LLC, an insurer-friendly variation of these provisions was called into question in possibly the worst texting and driving scenario imaginable. Still, a California Court of Appeal applying New York law refused to bar coverage.