Last week, the Seventh Circuit had occasion to consider the scope of a contractual liability exclusion in the context of professional liability coverage. In Crum & Forster Specialty Ins. Co. v. DVO, Inc., No. 18-2571, 2019 WL 4594229 (7th Cir. Sept. 23, 2019), an insurer insisted that its contractual liability exclusion did not render the professional liability coverage it sold illusory. The Court disagreed, however, holding that the exclusion was overbroad and would, if applied, defeat the fundamental purpose of the insurance. The Court further concluded that the policy must be reformed to meet the policyholder’s “reasonable expectations” of coverage.
The insurer had sold both primary and excess insurance policies to its policyholder, DVO, a company which designs and constructs anaerobic digesters. Pursuant to the coverage grant, the insurer agreed to pay DVO’s liabilities for, among other things, “damages or cleanup costs because of a wrongful act” arising out of “a failure to render professional services.” The Court opined that the essential purpose of this insurance was to provide coverage for professional malpractice. Continue reading “Case Review: Seventh Circuit Repudiates Insurer’s Attempt to Sell Illusory Coverage to Policyholder”
Frank M. Kaplan
The Hypothetical Facts
Take the following hypothetical: A California company is sued in the Los Angeles Superior Court for personal injuries suffered by the driver of a vehicle that was injured in a crash involving the company’s car. The company has insurance for bodily injury liability. Its insurance company, however, does not believe there is coverage and denies that it has any duty to indemnify its insured. The insurer agrees, however, that it will defend the insured subject to a reservation of rights.
The insurance company retains a lawyer employed by one of its panel firms. The lawyer has litigated personal injury suits for 15 years and appears, at least outwardly, competent to handle the insured’s case.
It turns out, though, that the retained lawyer does a very poor job of defending the insured, failing to take or follow up on critical discovery and missing various deadlines. The insurance company is aware of the lawyer’s incompetent performance, but does nothing about it. As the case approaches trial, the insured settles the case, using $250,000 of its own money and a small amount begrudgingly offered by the insurer. Continue reading “Insurer Liability for Retained Counsel’s Malpractice”
James S. Carter
Businesses are increasingly purchasing dedicated cyber insurance policies to address their cyber and data security exposures. To date, however, many of the judicial decisions addressing insurance for cyber exposures have done so under other, more traditional, types of insurance policies such as commercial general liability (“CGL”) and commercial property policies. Some of these rulings have disappointed policyholders by concluding that such non-cyber insurance policies do not cover cyber exposures. But a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit demonstrates that certain non-cyber policies potentially afford coverage for cyber exposures. In Spec’s Family Partners, Ltd. v Hanover Insurance Co., No. 17-20263, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 17246 (5th Cir. June 25, 2018), the court of appeals found that a contractual liability exclusion in a management liability policy did not excuse the insurer of its duty to defend its policyholder, a private company, against a claim arising out of a payment card data breach. Continue reading “Seeking Insurance Coverage for Data Breach Claims? A Recent Case Confirms that Certain D&O Policies Potentially Provide Coverage”
Frank M. Kaplan
There are certain immutable truths. For example, we know that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, that the earth is not flat, that coverage grants in an insurance policy are to be interpreted broadly consistent with the insured’s reasonable expectations, and that policy exclusions are to be interpreted narrowly. The latter two, which together with others, are long-held canons of insurance policy interpretation protecting insureds that appear in thousands of court decisions and are not subject to reasonable dispute by lawyers on either side of the insurance coverage bar.
So what happens when an insurer attempts to alter these and other fundamental, bedrock principles of policy interpretation by unilaterally altering them in a form, non-manuscript insurance policy? Must a court abandon decades of settled jurisprudence in favor of policy language that seeks just that result? The answer should be “no.” Continue reading “Unenforceable “Policy Interpretation” Provision”
Julia K. Holt
Under California law, the insurer has the heavy burden of establishing there is no potential for coverage of an underlying claim. With respect to the duty to defend, “[t]o prevail, the insured must prove the existence of a potential for coverage, while the insurer must establish the absence of any such potential. In other words, the insured need only show that the underlying claim may fall within policy coverage; the insurer must prove it cannot.” Montrose Chem. Corp. v. Superior Court, 6 Cal. 4th 287, 300 (1993). The Ninth Circuit reconfirmed this fundamental principle earlier this year in Hanover Insurance Co. v. Paul M. Zagaris, Inc., No. 17-15477, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 5429 (9th Cir. March 2, 2018), when it upheld the district court’s decision that the insurer failed to establish that an exclusion for deceptive business practices applied to the entire proposed class action for an alleged kickback scheme. Continue reading “The Ninth Circuit Reconfirms that under California Law an Insurer Bears a Heavy Burden to Demonstrate an Exclusion Eviscerates Its Defense Duty”
Robyn L. Michaelson and Omid Safa
A governmental entity may initiate an investigation with something as seemingly innocuous as an “informal” request for information, or as ground shaking as armed government officials executing a full-blown search and seize warrant at your company’s headquarters. In either scenario, the ensuing investigation is likely to be expensive, time consuming, and a distraction from your business operations. Any governmental investigation can quickly escalate into an extensive and protracted inquiry that forces your company to spend significant time, resources, and legal fees responding to (and defending against) the government’s investigatory demands. These investigations may also result in subsequent legal or administrative enforcement actions, which expose the company and its directors and officers to potential liability for damages, fines, penalties, and other financial obligations. These actions pose a serious threat to the organization and its top brass, and must be met with a vigorous defense. The crucial question is: How will you pay for your response and defense? The answer may lie with your insurance portfolio. Continue reading “Government Investigators at Your Door? Check Your Insurance Policies.”
On Tuesday, in deciding J.P. Morgan Securities, Inc., et al. v. Vigilant Insurance Company, et al., the New York Court of Appeals handed down a victory for policyholders seeking insurance coverage for liabilities arising from Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) claims, particularly broker-dealers and clearing firms. Frequently, the SEC resolves such claims by way of a consent order (e.g., an “Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings, Making Findings, and Imposing Remedial Sanctions”), which requires a policyholder to pay certain amounts as “disgorgement.” Insurers typically refuse to cover disgorgement remedies, contending that public policy prohibits insurance recovery for the return of so-called “ill-gotten gains.”
But not all “disgorgement” is created equal. In J.P. Morgan, the Court of Appeals clarified that mere labels used in an SEC consent order will not determine a policyholder’s rights under an insurance policy. Using the court’s analysis, the insurer must examine the nature of the disgorgement payment to determine whether it represents revenue that the policyholder pocketed or improper profits acquired by third parties. If the disgorged monies are not the policyholder’s own revenue, then the company will not be unjustly enriched by recouping insurance proceeds and may obtain coverage for its loss. This is particularly good news for financial companies with potential liability to the SEC for allegedly ill-gotten profits that ultimately end up in third parties’ pockets, such as hedge fund customers. Continue reading “New York’s Highest Court Clarifies That “Disgorgement” Losses May Be Insurable”
John A. Gibbons
The Second Circuit’s June 4, 2013 decision in Ali v. Federal Insurance Co. addresses when and how a policyholder may recover from excess liability insurance policies for future liabilities when underlying insurers are insolvent. (Opinion linked here). A number of insurer-leaning commentators have cast the case as a rethinking of Zeig v. Massachusetts Bonding & Insurance Co., 23 F.2d 665 (2d Cir. 1928), the seminal Second Circuit decision authored by Judge Augustus Hand, which first established the principle that policyholders could recover against excess insurance policies even if the policyholder did not collect the full limits of underlying insurance policies. In Zeig, the Second Circuit rejected an excess insurer’s attempt to walk away from its insurance obligations simply because Mr. Zeig settled his claim against a separate insurance company. Zeig established the principle, recognized by numerous courts since, that a policyholder’s settlement with one insurer does not forfeit the policyholder’s rights against other insurers.
The characterization that the Second Circuit has now called Zeig’s common-sense, and widely recognized principle into question, however, seriously misreads the decision in Ali. To understand Ali—what it does and does not hold—requires an understanding of the issues that were actually ruled on by the district court and affirmed by the Second Circuit. Continue reading “The Second Circuit’s Ali Decision Supports Zeig on Exhaustion of Insurance”
Justin F. Lavella
“The duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify.” For many policyholders, this oft-repeated maxim of insurance law embodies a variety of different expectations. The first and foremost expectation is that policyholders are entitled to a defense from their insurer even if coverage for future liability may be in doubt. A second common expectation is that a policyholder’s defense costs will be paid by its insurers as those costs are incurred. A third expectation is that a judicial decision obligating a primary carrier to pay defense costs will ensure that excess insurers also are obligated to pay any unreimbursed defense costs once the primary policy is exhausted.
Unfortunately, as many policyholders’ mass tort liabilities—such as asbestos and environmental claims—have begun to implicate higher-level excess policies, many of the above expectations have not only gone unsatisfied but have come under attack by increasingly obstructionist excess insurers. For some policyholders, this has resulted in a second generation of coverage litigation over liabilities and coverage issues long thought to have been resolved. Continue reading ““Common Sense” Prevails: Court Rejects Excess Insurer’s Position that Defense Costs Coverage Is Dependent on Payment of Damages”