Sexual abuse litigation is increasingly common, and an unfortunate wave of new lawsuits is coming. In her recent alert, Pillsbury’s Joan Cotkin reviews how the insurance industry has responded to these risks with new liability insurance products designed to address such claims, what coverage defenses insurers are likely to assert, and how you can anticipate and respond to them to secure the benefit of your coverage.
In recent years, Wisconsin generally has been a pro-policyholder jurisdiction when it comes to long-tail environmental coverage cases. That trend continues with a decision by a Wisconsin appellate court in a case involving coverage for environmental cleanup costs at a former manufactured gas plant site. In Superior Water, Light & Power Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London Subscribing to Policy Nos. K22700, CX2900, and CX2901, the court reversed a lower court and held that there may be coverage under historic policies if there was damage to groundwater during the policy period, notwithstanding that site operations had ceased years earlier. This is an important decision, as the same historic London Market “occurrence” definition was used in many policies issued to other policyholders by London Market Insurers during the same time frame. (A description of some of the unique aspects of the London insurance market can be found here.)
The California Court of Appeal recently disposed of a novel attack on bad faith law launched by Zurich American Insurance Company. In Miller Marital Deduction Trust, et al. v. Zurich American Insurance Company, 2019 DJDAR (October 23, 2019), Zurich was called upon to defend a cross complaint arising in connection with long-tail pollution claims. Despite an extensive reservation of rights and a conflict of interest, Zurich refused to pay for independent counsel (Cumis counsel, in California parlance) and instead appointed panel counsel to defend. While the underlying environmental case was pending in federal court, the Millers filed a state court action against Zurich asserting that the insurer’s appointment of counsel answerable to the insurance company, in violation of the Millers’ right to independent counsel, constituted breach of contract and a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
In late August, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) issued a joint white paper proposing a “name-and-shame” approach to electric utilities that failing to meet NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Reliability Standards. The standards represent a baseline for protecting against cyber-attacks on critical infrastructures. FERC and NERC propose to depart from the historical practice of withholding most material details regarding CIP Reliability Standard violations, and instead to start disclosing the names of allegedly violating electric utilities in response to Freedom of Information Act requests—“naming and shaming them.” This development underscores the substantial cyber risks utilities face and, likewise, the importance of appropriate insurance for those risks.
Colleagues Matthew G. Jeweler, Cassie Lentchner, Robert B. Ross and Brendan Hogan (along with Richard Mroz , managing director of Resolute Strategies LLC) examine the proposal more closely in “Name-and-Shame Proposal of Electric Regulators Highlights Need for Cyber Insurance.” They also outline a few key points electric utilities should keep in mind with respect to securing the right kinds of insurance coverage for cyber-related incidents.
In an important decision in the world of professional liability (including D&O and E&O policies), the Seventh Circuit recently held that a “contractual liability” exclusion—i.e., an exclusion for claims “based upon or arising out of … breach of contract”—when inserted in a professional liability policy, that is, a policy intended to insure professionals for services they perform under contract, renders the coverage “illusory.” Accordingly, the appeals court held that the policy must be “reformed” to meet the policyholder’s “reasonable expectations” that coverage would be afforded for claims by clients for errors and omissions in the performance of professional services under contract, and remanded the case to the district court to apply those reasonable expectations in the pending dispute. (See Crum & Forster Specialty Insur. Co. v. DVO, Inc., No. 18-2571 (7th Cir., Sept. 23, 2019), opinion here.)
The digitization of business is in high gear. Although some sectors have embraced this change, others, including the insurance industry, have been slower to implement advances. While we’ve previously addressed insurance coverage for artificial intelligence (AI) risks, the risk-averse culture of the insurance industry has been particularly resistant to change in its own business.
Hub City Enterprises Inc. and Wall St. Enterprises of Orlando Inc. ran an event called “Rum Fest 2017” in Orlando, Fla. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? But one of the partygoers, who apparently paid to attend the festival, was not amused. In the middle of the party, Robert Hunt saw an oversized beach ball barreling towards his head. When he reached out to deflect the projectile, he ended up suffering injuries to the ligaments in his arms. Mr. Hunt sued Hub City and Wall St. Enterprises, who tendered the claim to Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Co., their liability carrier, for a defense. Princeton initially assumed defense of the claim, but it soon repaired to federal court seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend the suit. In Princeton Excess & Surplus Lines Ins. Co. v. Hub City Enterprises, Inc., the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of the insurer.
Northwestern National, the successor to Bellefonte Insurance Company, was placed into liquidation by a court in Wisconsin in May. Northwestern National was previously put into rehabilitation by the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance in 2007 and exited rehab in 2012. Its policyholder surplus has continued to decline in recent years and does not meet the statutory minimum. A claims bar date has been set for November 2, 2019. More information and Proof of Claim forms can be found at the liquidation website.
In November 2018, we noted that the California Supreme Court had agreed to resolve Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Company, a case that hinged on the importance and application of California’s notice-prejudice rule. On August 29, 2019, the court issued its decision: a policyholder-friendly ruling that opposes technical forfeitures of insurance coverage. Although further proceedings are needed to determine whether Pitzer will ultimately benefit from this victory, the principles it articulates are of immediate interest to policyholders in California and across the country.
In a prior post, we reported an important ruling of first impression by the Delaware Superior Court that a shareholder appraisal action against Pillsbury’s client Solera Holdings Inc. was a “Securities Claim” under Solera’s directors and officers liability insurance policies. In the same decision, the court ruled on two additional issues that no Delaware court had previously decided and that highlight the importance of understanding the specific terms of your company’s D&O policies.