Four months ago, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) (S.66A/A.648A), creating a one-year window, beginning November 24, 2022, for adult survivors of sexual assault to bring civil claims against their alleged attackers which otherwise would have been time barred. On September 19, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an equivalent law, the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act (AB-2777), which similarly suspends the statute of limitations for civil claims of sexual assault and other vicarious offenses arising out of that conduct starting January 1, 2023. These laws will likely generate a surge of litigation in California and New York, undoubtedly impacting many businesses operating there. Many, if not most, of those companies will look to insurers to furnish legal defenses and to financially support settlements or damage awards based on past policies.
The doctrine of contra proferentem—in which a contractual ambiguity is construed against the drafter—has been a bedrock of New York insurance law since at least the 1880s. In “Contra Proferentem Will Remain Alive and Well in NY,” written for Law360, colleagues Benjamin Tievsky, Scott Greenspan and Stephanie Coughlan explore the history of this doctrine and why policyholders should take heart that the necessary protections of contra proferentem are alive and well under New York law.
In January, colleagues Joseph D. Jean, Alexander D. Hardiman, Benjamin D. Tievsky, Janine Stanisz and Stephen S. Asay examined New York’s Comprehensive Insurance Disclosure Act, which amended New York Civil Practice Law & Rules (CPLR) § 3101(f) to require defendants in civil cases to disclose voluminous and potentially sensitive insurance materials. When signing the act into law, Governor Kathy Hochul requested that the legislature enact amendments that would reduce the burden on litigants. On February 25, 2022, Gov. Hochul signed into law a variety of amendments that address some—but not all—of the concerns with New York. In “New York Amends Recently Enacted Comprehensive Insurance Disclosure Act Requirements,” our colleagues take a closer look at latest changes to CPLR § 3101(f).
Defendants in New York state court are now subject to some of the most extensive liability insurance disclosure requirements in the nation. On December 31, 2021, Governor Hochul signed into law, effective immediately, the Comprehensive Insurance Disclosure Act, amending New York Civil Practice Law & Rules (CPLR) § 3101(f) to require defendants in civil cases to disclose voluminous and potentially sensitive insurance materials, including applications for insurance policies and information concerning other claims.
In New York Enacts Sweeping New Insurance Disclosure Requirements for State Court Litigants, Joseph D. Jean, Alexander D. Hardiman, Benjamin D. Tievsky, Janine Stanisz, Stephen S. Asay examine the new requirements more closely and present guiding principles for compliance.
Last month, we discussed a decision by the Northern District of Illinois finding an amount labeled “restitution” in a settlement between a pharmaceutical company and the DOJ was insurable loss under a D&O policy. Shortly after that post, the New York Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion, continuing the trend of looking beyond the labels used for the payments in the underlying settlement agreement. In rejecting the insurers’ argument, the court evaluated the purpose of the payments and the nature of how they were derived to find the payments at issue were insurable under a Professional Liability policy, despite being called “disgorgement.”
Since July 9, 2021, New York City’s businesses have been subject to the requirements of a new biometrics law. Businesses operating in New York City should consider both their potential liability under these new requirements and whether their current insurance program protects them against associated risks.
When Frank Sinatra famously sang “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” he was probably not crooning about making a claim for insurer bad faith. New York has indeed acquired a reputation as a difficult place to obtain an award of extra-contractual damages for an insurer’s unreasonable denial of coverage—one reason that insurance companies perceive New York to be a relatively favorable venue for coverage litigation. While New York law does in fact provide remedies for insurer misconduct, a bill recently introduced in the New York State Assembly could further expand policyholder protections. The legislation would create a private right of action for policyholders to sue their insurers (and for injured parties to sue tortfeasors’ insurers directly) for unreasonable refusal or delay of coverage and for categories of damages that include attorneys’ fees, consequential damages, and punitive damages. This sweeping legislation would allow New York to “be a part of it” along with many other states, like California and Washington, that have robust statutory protections against unfair claims practices.
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.
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.
Insurance agreement language that precludes coverage in CGL policies for “expected or intended” injuries has been analyzed in nearly every jurisdiction, and courts have consistently held that bodily injury or property damage is excluded only if the insurer can demonstrate resulting damage was expected or intended by the insured. In Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. Connex Railroad LLC, an insurer-friendly variation of these provisions was called into question in possibly the worst texting and driving scenario imaginable. Still, a California Court of Appeal applying New York law refused to bar coverage.