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.
The Flint, Mich., water crisis returned to the news recently as criminal charges were brought against additional government employees resulting from the crisis. Meanwhile, a federal court in Pennsylvania recently issued a ruling in an insurance case that, like Flint, related to alleged contamination in drinking water stemming from corroded pipes. The decision rejects two insurers’ attempts to avoid coverage and serves as a good reminder of some fundamental insurance law principles—the duty to defend is broad, ambiguous policy language usually is construed against the insurer, and policies should be interpreted in favor of their purpose to provide coverage. It is also a reminder that the pollution exclusion is not nearly as all-encompassing as insurers like to think it is.