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iStock-636772794-liability-300x240We have written much about business interruption coverage for losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and expect that those losses will continue to dominate the insurance landscape for the foreseeable future.

But, in recent weeks, another trend has emerged that will also significantly impact businesses: third-party lawsuits related to COVID-19 alleging causes of action ranging widely from negligence to wrongful death to false advertising to breach of contract to securities violations. In much the same way that businesses should evaluate coverage for lost profits, so, too, should those that face claims and lawsuits be prepared to seek insurance coverage for their defense and indemnity costs.

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Over the past several weeks, news reports and their accompanying headlines have signaled what could be a pitched battle between policyholders and insurance companies over coverage for COVID-19 losses. One article noted that “insurance companies are facing political pressure to pay what could be a crippling sum of coronavirus-related claims—even though many of them say their policies don’t cover pandemics.” The headline of that article declared: “Insurers scramble to avoid 9/11-style coronavirus backlash.” Another piece described how the insurance industry had flatly rejected pressure from federal lawmakers “to pay out on business interruption claims from small businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.” Insurance companies are asking their governments to provide subsidies to cover the losses. Against this backdrop, it is little wonder that lawmakers in Ohio, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have proposed legislation that would retroactively expand business interruption policies to cover losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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iStock-1023398462-wisconsin-300x256When an insurer pursues a judicial determination on its duty to defend and agrees to defend its insured retroactively only five months after its insured initially requested a defense, has it breached its duty to defend? In most jurisdictions, the answer would be “yes.” In California, for example, an insurer must afford an immediate and entire defense in response to a tendered claim that is potentially covered under the Buss doctrine; belated, after-the-fact payments cannot cure that breach. But under the rule of a new Wisconsin decision, however, the same insurer would not have breached its duty to defend.

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In January, we were among the first to post on the insurance implications of coronavirus. Since then, the epidemic has landed on our shores, dragged down the stock market, and become a political football. It has affected supply chains originating in China, with significant results for companies like Apple. And it threatens business continuity in the U.S. It is important to remember that the threat to the economic cycle does not originate from financial forces like a tightening of credit, but in nuts-and-bolts workings of the manufacturing and service economy, where both bottlenecks in supply and a pullback in demand threaten markets. Some of these losses are insurable. This post reviews recent coverage developments and notes practical coverage considerations that companies might overlook.

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iStock-878954226-duty-defend-dometic-300x206Must an insurer consider the possibility that putative class members (i.e., potential class members not named in the complaint) other than the proposed class representatives (i.e., the plaintiffs named in the complaint to represent the proposed class) have claims within the proscribed policy period in determining whether its duty to defend has been triggered? Many insurers answer “no,” arguing putative class members’ claims—many of which would otherwise be barred by the applicable statute of limitations—are too speculative to trigger coverage. But courts across the country have disagreed, repeatedly answering the question in the affirmative. Last year, the Northern District of Indiana was the latest court to decide this issue in favor of policyholders.

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iStock-701198532-ransomware-300x194Cyberattacks are an increasingly frequent and costly risk faced by almost every business today. While the availability and scope of cyber-specific insurance has developed exponentially over the past few years, it is important to remember that more traditional policies (such as general liability and first-party property insurance) can still be a source for coverage in connection with cyber incidents, as a recent court decision demonstrates.

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iStock-1054513236-ip-insurance-300x173There has been tremendous recent growth in the range of specialized insurance policies offered to protect against intellectual property (IP) claims. “Traditional” policies may cover a given IP claim, but specific IP policies are growing in popularity as policyholders with IP-related risks look to bolster that aspect of their coverage portfolio. Because specialized IP policies are less common, less standardized, and less tested in courts, it is important that policyholders be knowledgeable about the market for IP coverage, including the types of coverages and specific policy wordings being offered. Here are a few practical tips to consider when securing such policies.

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iStock-118265197-mask-300x200There has been a drumbeat of news reports about Wuhan, China, a city more populous than any in the United States, which is in effective lock-down because of the coronavirus. Foreign nationals are being evacuated, travel has been restricted, and business is at a standstill. At a time like this, preserving public health is the highest priority. But businesses, both local and global, are also affected by shut-down orders, disruptions to their supply chains, mass sick days, and loss of business. Many, especially providers of hospitality or health care, may face elevated liability risks for exposing others to a contagion. It is important to remember that insurance may be available to meet these risks.

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Recent headlines have raised significant concerns about the possibility of cyberattacks on U.S. businesses as a result of the heightened tensions with Iran. The Department of Homeland Security, through its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), has published alerts and guidance recommending heightened awareness and vigilance. In “International Pressure Raises Cybersecurity Threats,” Tamara D. BrunoBrian E. Finch and Cassie Lentchner explore some of the practical steps companies can take toward cybersecurity precautions, compliance and insurance when heightened tension in the Middle East or other events increase the threat of cybersecurity incidents.

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Sexual abuse litigation is increasingly common, and an unfortunate wave of new lawsuits is coming. In her recent alert, Pillsbury’s Joan Cotkin reviews how the insurance industry has responded to these risks with new liability insurance products designed to address such claims, what coverage defenses insurers are likely to assert, and how you can anticipate and respond to them to secure the benefit of your coverage.

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