In “Policyholders Are Not to Blame for Social Inflation,” a recent article for Law360, Benjamin Tievsky explains why policyholders should be extremely skeptical of social inflation arguments put forward by the insurance industry.
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PFAS Enforcement and Liability Is on the Rise—Insurance Can Help
A key component of a company’s risk management function is to keep a close eye on new and developing sources of liability and to put in place appropriate insurance to respond in the event those liabilities ripen. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in legal and regulatory attention on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as “PFAS” or “forever chemicals.” PFAS are used in countless applications, and many companies across the country bear potential liability, from chemical companies to manufacturers to retailers to corporate end users. PFAS-related enforcement is focused on remedying impacts to both the environment and human health. Importantly, a company’s liability for PFAS-related contamination or bodily injury may be covered under historic general liability policies and/or modern-day pollution liability policies. As regulation and litigation relating to these ubiquitous substances continues to surge, corporate policyholders with potential exposure should be proactive to examine their insurance portfolios and position themselves for potential insurance coverage in the event they become a PFAS liability target.
As Opioid Liability Claims Expand Across the Industry, Consider Your Insurance Coverage
Regular readers of the Policyholder Pulse know that we often frame coverage issues with a lighthearted or (hopefully) humorous theme, but there’s nothing funny about the opioid crisis that continues to devastate lives and communities across the United States. The extent and impact of opioid addiction are being examined and explained by experts in the field, and we aren’t trying to tackle that subject on an insurance blog. Instead, this post outlines the expanding breadth of opioid liability claims at every level of the industry, and insurance coverage considerations raised by these claims.
Some Decisions Policyholders Can Be Thankful for this Year
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:
Harleysville Group Insurance v. Heritage Communities, Inc.
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.
Verizon Communications v. Illinois National Insurance Company
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.
All State Interior Demolition Inc. v. Scottsdale Insurance Company and McMillin Management Services v. Financial Pacific Insurance Company
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.
Nooter Corporation v. Allianz Underwriters Insurance Company
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.
Medidata Solutions, Inc. v. Federal Insurance Company
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!
Not Quite So Limited: Are Sublimits Sure to Limit Your Level of Coverage?
A critical component of any insurance policy is of course its limit, which is usually the most an insurance company must pay for a loss. But many property insurance policies include “sublimits” that provide a lower limit for particular losses.
Identifying the sublimits in a policy is usually straightforward since they typically appear in a list or chart in the policy’s declarations section. Sublimits generally fall into one of two types: (1) sublimits that apply to particular perils, like flood, Named Storm or earthquake; and (2) sublimits that apply to a type of damage or cost, like debris removal or preservation of property. There are many different perils and costs that a policy may sublimit, and sublimits appear in many types of policies (including, for example, sublimits for coverage for wage and hour claims under an employment liability policy). However, this blog will focus on property policy sublimits. Because many property policies include sublimits that apply to storm-related losses, they may particularly be an issue for companies damaged by hurricanes like 2017’s Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria.
Mark Those Words: When Reviewing Insurance Policies, Small Differences in Wording Can Have Big Impacts
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.
Understanding Business Interruption Insurance and Wide-Impact Catastrophes
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.
Beauty and the Beast: Insurance in the Fashion Industry
Fashion is sexy; insurance is not. So it’s easy to think of the two separately. But there are many points of intersection. Some of those intersections are not industry-specific: like other industries, fashion—design houses, retailers, textile manufacturers, modeling agencies—carries property, D&O, cyber, and many other lines of insurance. But unique aspects of the fashion world, and recent litigation trends affecting it, underscore the importance for the fashion industry to understand insurance in order to maximize successful recovery of insurance assets. Here, we comment briefly on three areas: IP, employment, and antitrust.
The Time a Government Subcontractor Fell Off a Ladder … Right after Its Defense Base Act Insurance Lapsed
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.”
Mother Nature 101: Being Prepared When “Cloudy” Turns “Torrential”
Last week, I had the great fortune of going to Cancun with my family. Sun, white sand beaches, amazing Mayan ruins (and traditions) intact. I’m sure you know what it’s like—kids buried in sand, beaming smiles, you relaxing in the sun (perhaps a touch of pink on the shoulders and nose), and an umbrella drink (or two).
And then, with little more than 30 minutes warning, came the rain. And I mean RAIN. Tons of it. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
That is road, not a river. Those are cars, not boats.
Being in the insurance recovery business, after family concerns my mind immediately started accounting for the losses arising from the storm-related floods. Who was ready for this? Who thought they were ready for this? Who was totally unprepared? And did any of that matter?