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.)
Insurers have recently argued that environmental property damage claims for “closure” costs arising out of historic pollution are not covered, because the claimed damages are just “ordinary costs of doing business.” Policyholders should strongly resist denials based on this argument, which is unsupported custom and practice in the insurance industry and contradicts the terms of standard-form third-party liability policies, applicable environmental laws, and insurance law in nearly all jurisdictions.
The Supreme Court of Texas delivered good news to policyholders insured under a “Joint Venture Provision” endorsement commonly used in the oil and gas industry. In Anadarko Petroleum Corp. v. Houston Casualty Co.—a case arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster—the court held that insurers assumed the obligation to reimburse the full amount of a joint venture partner’s defense costs, rejecting the insurers’ argument that their obligation was reduced by the “scaling” language of a Joint Venture Provision. As a result, the court held the insurers liable to Anadarko for over $100 million in defense costs, not just the $37.5 million they had already paid.
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.
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.
It’s that time of the year when Americans gather together, enjoy a feast, and fall asleep in front of the TV. But before the tryptophan kicks in, we also like to give thanks for the good things that have happened in the past year. Corporate policyholders can share in the tradition, as this year has produced a number of court decisions that favored insureds and protected their coverage expectations. Here are a few of the cases we are most thankful for:
This case out of the South Carolina Supreme Court gave generously to policyholders in a number of ways this year (giving us the opportunity to post in this blog again and again and again). The case involved defective construction claims against a developer. The developer’s insurer, Harleysville, provided a defense under a vague reservation of rights letter. After the underlying plaintiffs were awarded verdicts against the developer, Harleysville sued to avoid covering the judgments. The court ruled against Harleysville on four issues:
- Harleysville’s vague, general reservation of rights letter did not effectively reserve its rights to contest coverage under the terms and exclusions in the policy;
- Where the underlying verdicts did not apportion the damages between covered and uncovered losses, the insurer bore the burden of proving amounts allocable to uncovered losses. Where the insurer failed to meet that burden, it had to cover the entire verdict;
- Punitive damages awarded in the verdicts were found to be covered under Harleysville’s policy; and
- The owners’ association, which was asserting the dissolved developer’s coverage rights in the case, had standing to challenge the insurer’s reservation of rights letter.
Harleysville is a case that just keeps on giving.
The duty to provide a defense, or reimburse defense costs, is one of the most important features of liability insurance. You could say it’s the stuffing, where indemnity is the turkey. The Delaware Superior Court emphasized that obligation in Verizon to the tune of $48 million in defense costs that the insurer had refused to pay. This decision was important because it rejected the insurer’s attempt to define the vague term “securities claim” narrowly to avoid its obligation to pay defense costs. More broadly, the court upheld the pro-policyholder interpretative doctrine of contra proferentem, rejecting the insurer’s argument that the doctrine should not apply where the insured is a large, sophisticated corporation. Applying the doctrine, the court held that unless it can be shown that the insured had a hand in drafting the policy language, ambiguous terms should be interpreted against the insurer. A more detailed analysis of the decision by this firm can be found here.
Thanksgiving dinner is always better with more guests. Additional Insured endorsements in policies extend the invitation to more parties that may require a seat at the table of insurance protection. This is especially important in the construction context, where developers and general contractors rely on numerous subcontractors’ insurance policies to protect them from liability arising from those subcontractors’ work. These two decisions rejected insurers’ attempts to narrow the application of additional insured endorsements.
In All State Interior, previously highlighted here, a New York County trial court interpreted an endorsement broadly, granting additional insured status to companies that didn’t technically contract with the subcontractor, and who weren’t named in the endorsement. The court, in essence, incorporated the terms of the contract between All State and the subcontractor into the endorsement to trigger additional insured coverage for the project owner, site lessor, and construction manager as All State’s “partners, directors, officers, employees, agents and representatives.”
In McMillin, the insurer’s policy granted additional insured status to McMillin, the general contractor of a project, for “liability arising out of [the subcontractor’s] ongoing operations,” and excluded additional insured status for the insured’s completed operations. The insurer denied defense coverage on the basis that the subcontractor had finished working on the project. The California Court of Appeal disagreed, stating that the endorsement’s phrase “arising out of” is broader than “during,” and so the liability did not have to arise while the insured was still working on the project.
When it’s time for dessert, allocating the available pie to make sure everyone gets what they deserve can be tricky. This year, Missouri joined the ranks of “all sums” states that maximize coverage for policyholders with long-tail claims stretching over several years. The “all sums” method of allocation allows an insured to allocate all of its damages from long-tail losses to a single year of coverage. This ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals was based on the plain language of the policies, which promise to indemnify the insured for all sums the insured is legally obligated to pay for occurrences during the policy period. The court also ruled that all triggered primary policies across a period of years need not be exhausted before excess policies in the period selected by the policyholder can be triggered. The court ruled that only the primary policy in one year needs to be exhausted before that year’s excess policies are triggered. For a more thorough analysis of this case, click here.
Rather than brave the stampedes of Black Friday, one can get good deals on holiday gifts on Cyber Monday. But to protect against cyber thieves, make sure your insurance coverage will protect you. In this case, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York interpreted the computer fraud provision of a crime policy to do just that. Policyholder Medidata was the victim of fraud when someone tricked its employees into wiring money overseas, using spoofed emails that looked like they came from the company’s president. Medidata’s insurer denied its claim, stating that the computer fraud clause of the crime coverage required actual hacking into and manipulation of Medidata’s computer system. But the court sided with Medidata, ruling that the spoofing of emails violated the integrity of the insured’s computer system enough to trigger coverage, and actual entry by hackers was not required by the policy language or by precedent.
We at Pillsbury hope you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
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.
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.
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 and Vince Morgan provided insight into business interruption insurance and dealing with the aftermath of wide-impact catastrophes.
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.