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 startup guys in the hit television series Silicon Valley might be surprised to learn that the California legislature has expanded the scope of mandatory Workers’ Comp coverage to include their corporate officers, directors and working partners. The new law, effective January 1, 2017, sweeps in a broad range of individuals, unless they file a written opt-out. These changes to the California Labor Code are creating confusion for some businesses regarding which employees must now be included on workers’ comp insurance coverage. The consequences of noncompliance can be severe, and businesses would be well-advised to ensure that they have secured the necessary additional coverage or obtained the necessary opt-outs from affected officers, directors, and working partners.
Imagine you are a prime contractor to a Department of the United States of America supplying logistical support for the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. As the prime, you are kicking on all cylinders, including purchasing comprehensive Employer’s Liability, Workers’ Compensation and Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance to cover your own employees against a worker injury claim abroad.
Then the phone rings.
A 30-year-old American worker hired by your subcontractor working on base encountered a swarm of bees while painting; he fell and was crippled. The sub isn’t paying his medical expenses and is apparently nowhere to be found. The injured employee’s bulldog lawyer is on the line threatening to sue your company directly for his client’s devastating injuries.
How can this be?
DBA coverage is workers’ compensation insurance that employers may turn to in the event that an employee is injured while working on a contract financed by the U.S. Government and performed outside the United States. Section 5(a) of the Act provides that “a contractor shall be deemed the employer of a subcontractor’s employees if the subcontractor fails to secure the payment of compensation.”