For both good and ill, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered every facet of personal and professional life. For example, many employees have enjoyed unprecedented freedom to work remotely. However, with vaccines becoming more readily available, the time is soon approaching when people will return to their offices and places of work. With this return comes the potential for workplace-related disputes and, in their aftermath, claims for insurance coverage for the actions of employees, such as sexual harassment.
Location matters. Some states are more protective of policyholder or consumer interests than others. And so, where the case is ultimately litigated, and what law applies, can have profound implications for a policyholder’s recovery.
In an effort to secure the application of a body of jurisprudence they perceive to be more favorable to them, insurance companies will sometimes include provisions in policies mandating either that cases arising under the policy be filed in a certain court or conducted under a specified state’s laws. We have previously noted the limits of such choice-of-law provisions, especially when the selected state’s laws conflict with the fundamental public policy of the state in which a coverage suit is filed. Now, a recent decision from a New York State court illuminates the limits of forum-selection clauses in an insurance policy.
In the finance world, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) are proliferating like Dutch tulips. This year alone, they’ve exploded in popularity, with multitudes of celebrities, politicians, and influencers sponsoring SPACs of their own. The list includes the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Hawk. Even amidst new concerns from the SEC, which reportedly opened an inquiry into the investment risks of SPACs and issued a bulletin warning prospective investors to exercise caution investing in celebrity-sponsored SPACs, SPACs have raised staggering amounts of capital.
Insurers generally have a statutory duty to provide a legitimate factual and legal basis to deny a claim, and to discharge this duty sometimes engage in-house or outside counsel to assist in the investigation and handling of policyholders’ claims for coverage, including ghostwriting coverage correspondence and denials of coverage. The decision to outsource ordinary claims investigation and handling to legal counsel (putting aside that many claims handlers are lawyers) comes at a price. Two recent court rulings highlight that insurers’ decision to use in-house or outside counsel to ghostwrite coverage correspondence can come back to haunt them by waiving any alleged privilege.
The United States declared a national emergency in response to COVID-19 on March 13, 2020, and states quickly followed with stay-at-home orders that impacted businesses and institutions nationwide. It has now been nine full months since the pandemic emerged in the United States and businesses began to shut down in the face of contamination and civil authority orders effecting restrictions on access to and use of their premises.
Like many businesses, colleges and universities across the country have had to dramatically alter their operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Most students completed the spring 2020 semester through online instruction after campuses closed in response to rising infection rates and government shutdown orders. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, roughly one-quarter of institutions of higher education are providing instruction this fall semester either fully or primarily in person, one-quarter are using a hybrid model, and the remainder operating fully or primarily online.
His daughter missing and a secret government program uncovered …
Ben Affleck’s detective thriller Hypnotic was next in line to be on the actor’s list of blockbuster films. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic halted the film while it was still in pre-production. To insure against such business interruption risks and delay, Hypnotic’s production company, Hoosegow (Hypnotic) Productions Inc., had purchased a Film Producer’s policy from Chubb National Insurance Company.
With hundreds of cases now pending nationwide involving insurance coverage claims for business interruptions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal panel has been considering the prospect of consolidating the litigation into one multidistrict litigation (MDL) to promote their efficient resolution. On August 12, 2020, the panel issued a decision ruling out a single nationwide MDL, but leaving open the possibility of smaller, insurer-specific MDLs.
In “COVID-19 Business Interruption Litigation May Be Consolidated for a Select Few,” Sandra Kaczmarczyk and David F. Klein examine this decision and its implications more closely.
Late in June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Liu v. SEC, a closely watched case in which the Court in an 8-1 opinion curtailed the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to seek disgorgement of profits from private parties in judicial enforcement proceedings. The Court articulated restrictions on the SEC’s disgorgement power, including (1) limiting disgorgement amounts to the net profits from wrongdoing, (2) limiting the SEC’s ability to seek disgorgement of profits on a joint and several basis, and (3) directing the SEC to return disgorged monies to aggrieved investors rather than depositing them in the U.S. Treasury. Although it does not address insurance issues directly, the Court’s analysis of the disgorgement remedy is bound to revive discussion of the issue of insurability of losses suffered as a result of settlements or judgments characterized as disgorgement.
Insurance policies are legal documents. In the event of a dispute, their scope and meaning will be submitted to a court or arbitrator for interpretation. Most brokers are not attorneys. Most risk managers are not attorneys. And few companies seek counsel to review policies before a claim arises. But underwriters, assisted by their counsel, increasingly are including litigation-focused provisions in their policies. Although these provisions often appear innocuous to readers unfamiliar with insurance litigation issues, they are like time bombs designed to explode in the event of a contested, litigated claim.