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.
Latin America continues to be a prime market for business development and expansion; however, insurance coverage for businesses based in or doing business in the region sometimes lags behind what is necessary to sufficiently protect them against risk. Evaluating coverage for companies operating in Latin America requires a specialized skill set—for example, a key consideration when evaluating claims and reviewing coverage programs is that multiple languages are at play for programs that span the Americas. Master policies for companies based in the United States and global policies for multinational corporations will generally be written in English. Companies with operations or offices in Latin America will likely also have in place local policies written in Spanish and/or Portuguese.
A recent decision in the Middle District of Florida, Southern Owners Insurance Company v. Gallo Building Services, Inc., reminds us of the high bar an insurer must clear to avoid its duty to defend an insured—even when that insured is out of business.
Like Bob Dylan, marijuana has gone from symbol of 1960s counter-culture to mainstream appeal. It is telling that Lloyd’s of London (which reportedly insures Mr. Dylan’s vocal chords) has also recently announced that that it will underwrite cannabis-related insurance in Canada, issuing policies to businesses who legally produce, distribute and sell marijuana. In the United States, an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational uses, and others will be voting on the issue in the near future (as Michigan will this November). Federal illegality—whose days may be numbered—has become less and less of an obstacle to obtaining coverage “from seed to sale” for businesses in the legal cannabis space. This is demonstrated by two recent developments since our previous blog post on insurance for the marijuana industry.
For nearly 100 years, the independent organization The American Law Institute has produced influential “Restatements” of U.S. common law in a wide range of areas, intended as authoritative summaries of the main currents of the law. But they’ve never tackled insurance law—until now. Restatement of the Law, Liability Insurance (RLLI), approved by the ALI in May 2018, marks several important firsts. It’s the first Restatement on insurance—a particularly complex and nuanced area of the law, as each state highly regulates it under its own sets of statutes and precedents. It’s also the first Restatement that focuses on a particular industry—insurance—as opposed to a generalized legal area such as agency, torts or property. Likely because of this, the drafting of the RLLI was not without controversy and it’s unclear how it will be received.
By statute, California law holds that willful misconduct—where an insured intends to cause someone harm—is not insurable as a matter of public policy. For years, insurance companies have sought to expand this prohibition to exclude coverage where anyone acts deliberately, regardless of the intent of the insured, or the insured’s intent to cause harm.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in industries from manufacturing to the medical profession. Developments in the last ten years have delivered AI technology, once a fiction reserved for the movies, to private corporations and even to everyday homes. Examples include:
- 2004 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsors a driverless car grand challenge. Technology developed by the participants eventually allows Google to develop a driverless automobile and modify existing transportation laws.
- 2005 Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot can walk as fast as a human, delivering trays to customers in a restaurant setting. The same technology is now used in military robots.
- 2011 IBM’s Watson wins Jeopardy against top human champions. It is training to provide medical advice to doctors. It can master any domain of knowledge.
- 2012 Google releases its Knowledge Graph, a semantic search knowledge base, likely to be the first step toward true artificial intelligence.
- 2013 BRAIN initiative aimed at reverse engineering the human brain receives $3 billion in funding by the White House, following an earlier billion euro European initiative to accomplish the same.
- 2014 Chatbot convinced 33% of the judges it was human and by doing so passed a restricted version of a Turing Test.
The stopwatch is running. Companies are scrambling to figure out how the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—due to go into effect on May 25, 2018—will affect how they do business. Uncertainty and speculation abound; no one knows exactly how the law will be enforced, particularly with respect to companies domiciled outside the EU, with no EU footprint, who process and hold the personal data of EU residents. But while publications are awash with advice regarding compliance, few tackle the question whether your business is protected against loss in the event of a data breach or other unintentional failure to comply. We strongly suggest that your due diligence include a review of your insurance coverage for GDPR non-compliance, especially for fines, penalties and lawsuits (individual or class action). Qualified coverage counsel should assist in the review, but key areas of focus include:
Coverage for Costs of Compliance
Many costs that companies will incur to comply with GDPR simply will not be covered by any insurance. Insurance is designed to respond to fortuitous loss or liability, not ordinary costs of doing business. Thus, for example, coverage likely is unavailable for expenses to adopt and implement data security measures, maintain required records, respond to individuals’ requests to access or delete their data, or hire a Data Protection Officer.
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.