Articles Posted in Environmental

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What happens when you have a claim arising from circumstances that unfolded over many policy years—like environmental property damage or asbestos bodily injury claims? Which policies are triggered? How much coverage does each policy provide? Unsurprisingly, insurers and policyholders disagree on the answers. And courts across the country have been grappling with the issue for decades.iStock-529679660-all-sums-allocation-300x225

Some courts apply the “all sums” approach, which allows a policyholder to recover in full—subject to policy limits—from any insurer whose policy has been “triggered.” Other courts apply the “pro rata” approach, under which each triggered insurer must pay only a portion of the loss allocated to its policy periods. This is a closely watched issue among the insurance bar as it can dramatically impact the amount of a recovery depending on the contours of the policyholder’s insurance program.

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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.iStock-151562870-300x225 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.

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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.

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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.

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.
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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 iStock-172241371-drain-200x300Pennsylvania 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.

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After tearing through the Caribbean, Hurricane Matthew’s path brought it north to the southeastern coast of the United States, bringing evacuations, business closures and damages to the region. In the storm’s aftermath, colleagues Tamara Bruno, Colin Kemp, Peter Gillon, Vince Morgan and Joe Jean discuss important steps to take to maximize insurance recovery following such an event.

 

 

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As we edge further into the summer months, many contractors see an increase in work volume with longer days and universally better weather. That said, Mother Nature is not always predictable, and an unexpected storm can quickly lead to a flash flood, or other natural disaster that might result in what insurers may classify as a pollution event. Even something seemingly as innocuous as water run-off from a job site following a summer shower has the potential to result in a third-party claim against a contractor for damage.Colorful macro of local automotive pollution Thus, it is imperative that contractors have the right pollution coverage in place to remain secure and profitable.

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Ever since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided Zeig v. Mass. Bonding & Insurance Co. in 1928, it has been well-settled that a policyholder can compromise a disputed claim with its insurer for less than the full limits of the policy without putting its rights to excess coverage at risk. In a seminal opinion by Judge Augustus Hand, the Zeig court said, “We can see no reason for a construction so burdensome to the Man pulling out his empty pocket for camerainsured,” to require collection of the full amount of primary polices in order to exhaust them. The Zeig court emphasized that a compromise payment by the primary insurer discharges the limits of the primary coverage, while the excess insurer is unharmed, since it must pay only the amount exceeding the attachment point of its policy.

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Recently, we wrote about the breadth of the “duty to defend,” and its importance to policyholders.  As if on cue, late last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed in Ash Grove Cement Company v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company that, under Oregon law, an insurer’s duty to defend begins with an information request from the Environmental Protection Agency, and continues for the duration of the regulatory process. EPA SignThe particular information request at issue in Ash Grove Cement is known as a “104(e) letter,” which is issued by the EPA under section 104(e) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). As companies that have owned or operated a contaminated site know from experience, a 104(e) letter or a similar request under state environmental law typically is the first step in a regulatory enforcement process under which they face strict and retroactive liability for the costs of investigating and cleaning up the site. The ruling in Ash Grove Cement means that defense cost coverage begins at this critical juncture and continues until site investigation and cleanup is completed.

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Over time, New York’s courts have erected multiple barriers to policyholders seeking to recover insurance for long-tail, progressive injury claims—such as environmental or asbestos liabilities—that can implicate multiple policies over multiple policy terms. Now, in a New York minute, just weeks after hearing oral argument, the Empire State’s highest court leveled the playing field by endorsing the “all sums” and “vertical exhaustion” approach to allocation advocated by a policyholder, at least as to policies containing “non-cumulation” and “prior insurance” provisions.

New York City skyline with urban skyscrapers at sunset.

In In re Viking Pump, Inc., New York’s Court of Appeals did not overrule its 2002 decision in Consolidated Edison Co. of New York v. Allstate Ins. Co., which had applied pro rata allocation where the non-cumulation clause argument was not raised, but the court made clear that pro rata allocation is not the default rule in New York. Rather, the specific wording of the triggered policies will control, and can require allocation on an all-sums basis. This is a huge win for policyholders with New York liabilities and a further endorsement, by a prestigious court, of the “all sums” approach to allocation.

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