When a company receives a claim or lawsuit, it is critical to provide timely notice to its insurers. But when the claim is first made, sufficient facts may not yet be known to indicate which policy will respond. Many policies also contain language that purports to shift coverage to earlier insurance policies for claims that “relate back” to earlier events. As a best practice, policyholders and their brokers often provide notice of a claim under all policies that might cover a loss, to ensure that coverage is not defeated by failure to meet any obligation to give notice. This method of first providing notice for claims to multiple insurers, and then working with insurers to determine the correct policy to respond, is a well-established practice for managing insurance claims. Once the proper policy to respond to the claim is established, exclusions in the other policies kick in to avoid double coverage.
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.
Recently the Eleventh Circuit spent a lot of ink discussing how the marketing and sale of sashimi-grade tuna is affected when myoglobin reacts with oxygen to produce oxymyoglobin, and with carbon monoxide to form carboxymyoglobin before oxidizing into metmyoglobin—or, in other words, how quickly raw tuna meat turns from bright red (good) to brown (not so good). In the end, the court held, it doesn’t really matter—at least as to insurance coverage for advertising injury—unless the insurance company is given proper notice. And not just notice of a claim, but notice of the specific claim for which coverage is requested.
Living a life in 0.1 hour increments! Most law firm lawyers begrudgingly accept the necessity of meticulously counting their time, and most in-house lawyers are relieved when they no longer have to think about their days six minutes at a time. But as more in-house legal departments take on their company’s own defense, they are well advised to have time-keeping programs and procedures in place to recover the maximum amount from the insurance companies that have accepted a duty to defend or agreed to indemnify the company for defense costs.
Any construction professional working in Florida likely is familiar with the state’s notice and opportunity to repair statute (“chapter 558”) that creates a process for trying to resolve construction defect claims without litigation. As the first step in this mandatory process, a property owner must serve a chapter 558 notice on the construction professional, which notice describes the alleged defects and damages. Many construction professionals submit chapter 558 notices to their general liability insurers and request a defense. But it has always been an open question whether the chapter 558 process is a “suit” triggering an insurer’s duty to defend—until now. In Altman Contractors, Inc. v. Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the chapter 558 process is a “suit” but left open the possibility that the process is only a “suit” when an insurer says it is. In a per curiam opinion in the original federal case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit relied on the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion to vacate the district court decision holding that the chapter 558 process is not a “suit” and remanded the case for further proceedings.
America is facing a reckoning. Many brave individuals have stepped forward over the last several months to speak truth about sexual harassment and assault in workplaces, in entire industries, and even in Congress. For a very long time, companies dealt with sexual assault and harassment allegations quietly and in backrooms, and these allegations often were not taken seriously. However, thanks to the turning tide, more companies are reexamining their internal policies, encouraging change in corporate culture, and addressing sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination claims more directly. As part of this effort, companies should also look at their corporate insurance programs to confirm insurance is in place should any such claim arise.
Only about 41 percent of companies with more than 1,000 workers report having some kind of insurance plan to cover sexual harassment and discrimination, and only about 33 percent of companies with at least 500 employees carry any insurance coverage for claims resulting from sexual harassment or assault. The numbers are even starker for startup companies, with only three percent of companies with fewer than 50 employees carrying such coverage. Therefore, while more and more companies are instituting anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policies, many companies remain ill-prepared to handle the inevitable challenges that await individuals, executives, and companies alike, as a result of this watershed moment in American culture.
Third-party intervention may now prove unnecessary when interpreting and enforcing contract provisions—at least this is what proponents of smart contracts believe. The overall goal, they argue, is to provide security unattainable through traditional contract law, and to reduce additional transaction costs that come with the traditional process. Will insurance policies become the laboratory to test their thesis?
First imagined by computer scientist Nick Szabo in 1996, smart contracts are computer protocols meant to facilitate a contract’s implementation and performance. They can carry out only the specific instructions given to them, and all transactions are traceable and irreversible. Regarding functionality, experts have likened smart contracts to a vending machine; contract terms are first coded and placed within the block of a blockchain (the same technology Bitcoin uses). Once the triggering event occurs, the contract is performed consistent with all designated terms. Continuing the analogy, the individual inserting money in the vending machine sets off a chain of events, unable to be undone or halted midway. (Granted, this last part isn’t like the traditional vending machines we know.) The machine keeps the money and dispenses the item. The contract has been fully performed.
In the aftermath of events like 2017’s hurricanes, especially for companies that were impacted multiple times, there are usually more things in need of attention than there is attention to go around. Reviewing insurance policies is one—but still only one—of those things. In the initial stages of dealing with these kinds of events, it is natural to focus on big-picture policy items like limits, deductibles, coverages and exclusions. Only in the second pass do companies usually focus more closely on the substantive wording of various provisions. In undertaking this second (or third or fourth) pass, it is important to zero in on the exact words of the policy to avoid overlooking details that may make all the difference as to whether coverage exists or not.
Here are some examples that are likely to come up in the wake of storms like Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.
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.
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.