Top 10 Tips for Insurance Policyholders (Fall 2020)

John A. Gibbons

1. Assess the policies you have and reassess the policies you should buy in the future.

2020 has brought a host of unwelcome events: pandemics, fires, floods, cyberattacks, financial failures, etc. An insurance program tailored to the risks and business opportunities of your specific company can provide for recovery during dark times, and specialized insurance products can help you safely expand your business. It is time to consider how tailored your current program is, and how you can better align insurance assets to your business in the future.

2. Use indemnities and additional insured status to expand your insurance assets.

Everyday business for many companies involves the use of terms and conditions; sales or services orders; and leases that address indemnification, minimum insurance requirements, and additional insured status. A well-thought-out use of additional insured status can allow you to leverage the insurance assets and insurance premiums of counterparties.

3. Ensure that you get the full benefits of your liability and property insurances.

Insurance policies provide many coverages, policy limits, and extensions that may not be readily apparent, and all of which may provide substantial financial assistance in the event of a loss. In addition, specialized forms of insurance, additional riders, or policy wording upgrades can better tailor policies to your specific business attributes. Use the renewal season to explore your options.

4. Avoid “conventional wisdom” about what is or is not covered.

With insurance, words matter! In fact, the wording determines the outcome. Do not accept statements about what others think a policy does or should cover. For example, claims for intentional wrongdoing and punitive damages often are covered by liability policies. Likewise, losses from your supply chain may be covered under your property policies. Non-payments of debts and breaches of contractual promises are covered under various forms of policies. Let the words lead you to coverage.

5. Give notice once you know of a loss or claim.

Typically, notice should be given soon after a loss, claim, or lawsuit, but remember that a delay in giving notice will not necessarily result in the loss of coverage. Consider the potentially applicable insurance assets that may apply and give notice.

6. Insist your insurers fully investigate claims.

Insurers have a duty to investigate claims thoroughly and must look for facts that support coverage.

7. Watch what you say.

Communications with an insurer or an insurance broker regarding a lawsuit against you or a loss are not necessarily privileged.

8. Don’t take “no” for an answer.

A reservation of rights is almost always the start of the insurance claim process, and a denial should not dissuade you from pursuing your rights. Even if coverage is not obvious at first, it may be there, if you look in the right places.

9. Document, document, document your claim.

Whether it is a first-party loss or a liability suit against you, write to your insurer and document your submission of information and materials. Require your insurer to respond in writing and to explain its position. A well-documented chain of correspondence narrows disputes, helps to limit shifting of insurer positions, or helps to make such shifting very apparent if your claim proceeds to formal enforcement measures.

10. Insist that your insurers honor their duties.

In the liability context insurers frequently owe broad duties to defend with independent, conflict-free counsel, even if uncovered claims dominate the lawsuit against you. In property insurance contexts, insurers have duties to help you on an expedited emergency basis to protect your interests immediately after a loss. It is important to hold insurers to their duties to protect you immediately upon assertion of liability or after a loss—delay only benefits insurers.

 

Wildfire and Hurricane Resources

Linda KornfeldJohn E. Heintz, and Alan Rubin







As the 2020 severe weather season continues unabated, our thoughts are with those dealing with multiple historic wildfires in the western states and on the West Coast, as well as with those awaiting the landfall of Hurricane Sally in the Gulf Coast tomorrow. The long-duration hurricane is expected to cause historic flooding and extremely dangerous storm surge. In addition, the National Hurricane Center has issued advisories on five tropical cyclones over the Atlantic basin; this ties the record for the greatest number of tropical cyclones in that basin at one time.

These unprecedented events are forcing evacuations, and may cause widespread damage, business interruption, and travel disruption for a large part of the country for days and weeks to come.

Blank Rome’s interdisciplinary Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Team (“SWERT”) has developed the following resources for those in the path of the wildfires and the storms, or with business interests in the affected regions, which we encourage you to share with your contacts via e-mail and/or social media:

Written by attorneys in our national Insurance Recovery practice who work with policyholder clients in the wake of property damage and business interruption losses.

Developed by Alan Rubin of Blank Rome Government Relations, who has years of experience working with FEMA in the aftermath of disasters.

Please share this information with anyone who has been impacted by the fires. These resources and many more can be found at our website at blankrome.com/SWERT. Our team stands ready to provide assistance on FEMA and insurance issues to individuals and businesses who are preparing for, or are impacted by, these events.

For additional information, please contact:

Linda Kornfeld, Partner and Vice Chair, Insurance Recovery Practice
John E. Heintz, Partner, Insurance Recovery Practice
Alan Rubin, Principal, Blank Rome Government Relations

CANCELED: Guidance for Policyholders on Event Cancellation Insurance in the Wake of COVID-19

Dominique A. Meyer

Across the globe, governments and public health officials are banning large gatherings and imploring citizens to practice “social distancing” in order to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, or “COVID-19.” As a result, festivals, sporting events, conferences, and community celebrations are being canceled or postponed, leaving event organizers of all sizes—from major production companies, to would-be newly-weds—wondering how to recoup their substantial losses.

The pandemic has led to an unprecedented number of high-profile event cancellations and the potential for billions of dollars in lost income and other damages to the entertainment and sports industries. Just last week, concert giants Live Nation and AEG Presents suspended all tour engagements in North America, and world-famous gatherings like the Coachella Valley Music Festival and Stagecoach Music Festival were postponed until October. The threat of the virus has also taken its toll on professional sports—both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspended the remainder of their 2019–2020 seasons, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled its March Madness tournament altogether. Not even “America’s favorite pastime” has been immune from the effects of the virus—Major League Baseball postponed the start of its 2020 season indefinitely. The economic cost of these cancellations is certain to be substantial. Continue reading “CANCELED: Guidance for Policyholders on Event Cancellation Insurance in the Wake of COVID-19”

California Corner: Resources for Those Impacted by California Wildfires

Linda Kornfeld, John E. Heintz, Alan Rubin

Communities and businesses throughout California are dealing with the serious, and for some, catastrophic effects of historic wildfires. The fires have devastated homes and businesses across a large swath of the state, and while their full impact is not yet known, they are sure to cause long-term disruption to individuals and families, residential areas, businesses and the economic health of the entire region. Our thoughts are with those affected by these events, and our interdisciplinary Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Team (“SWERT”) has prepared two resources that are immediately helpful to those in the affected areas: Continue reading “California Corner: Resources for Those Impacted by California Wildfires”

Pay Attention to Policy Language in a Hardening Insurance Market

Ian Ascher[1] and Jared Zola

The insurance market has proven to be a difficult environment for buyers in 2019. The long tenure of the soft insurance market cycle is changing, and is presenting challenges with pricing, capacity, and sustainability of favorable coverage terms. Coming out of difficult natural catastrophe years in 2017 and 2018, the property insurance market took a sharp turn to protect insurers’ bottom lines. While hardening of the property insurance market was expected, the broader casualty market has taken this opportunity to drive corrective action on their portfolios as well, leaving insurance buyers with little leverage.

How Insurers Are Reacting to the Market Shift

Insurers are approaching the market shift with different strategies, some focused on rate increases, while others are focused on restricting terms, or both. While individual loss experience still plays a role in renewal outcomes, there appears to be more of a portfolio-level push on rate and terms regardless of individual quality of risk factors for any given policyholder. In this environment, stricter control over capacity deployment leads to less competition, which may force the buyer into tough decisions regarding what utility insurance provides for its organization. The guarantee of comprehensive coverage at a fair price becomes harder to balance in a setting where definitively having both is less than certain. Continue reading “Pay Attention to Policy Language in a Hardening Insurance Market”

Hurricane Harvey Insurance Claim Gets Twisted

Jared Zola and Daniel R. Belzil

Almost two years after Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana, Central America, and several Caribbean islands, the coverage issues arising out of it are far from resolved. The court decisions addressing these coverage issues have not all been positive from the insured’s perspective. In particular, one recent decision in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Pan Am Equities, Inc. v. Lexington Insurance Company, No. H-18-2937 (May 2, 2019) (“Pan Am Equities”), should give insureds in Texas and elsewhere pause heading into the 2019 Hurricane Season.

The Dispute—Which Deductible Applies?

The insured in that case owned several commercial properties in Houston, including an apartment building and parking garage that sustained more than $6.7 million in flood damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Its properties were insured by a commercial property insurance policy that provided “Flood” coverages as well as coverages for loss caused by the peril of “Windstorm and Hail.” Continue reading “Hurricane Harvey Insurance Claim Gets Twisted”

Recent Lawsuit Highlights Need for Careful Review of Cyberinsurance Policies

James S. Carter and Amy J. Spencer

The “WannaCry” and “NotPetya” computer viruses that infected computer systems around the world in 2017 sounded a wakeup call. They demonstrated the power of a cyber event to disrupt the core operations of numerous companies and other organizations. Now some fear that another unpleasant surprise related to the 2017 virus attacks may be on the horizon—this time from the insurance industry. A recent lawsuit alleges that an insurer denied coverage for losses arising out of the “NotPetya” virus based on an exclusion for “hostile and warlike actions.” A version of this war exclusion appears in virtually all insurance policies, including cyberinsurance policies, which are supposed to address cyber events like “WannaCry” and “Not Petya.”

The lawsuit is Mondelez International, Inv. v. Zurich American Insurance Company. Filed late last year in Illinois state court, the policyholder, a snack food and beverage maker, alleges that it suffered a nightmare cyber scenario. Two separate intrusions of the “NotPetya” virus at different locations “rendered permanently dysfunctional approximately 1700 of [the policyholder’s] servers and 24,000 laptops.” According to the complaint, the virus caused property damage, commercial supply disruptions, unfulfilled customer orders, reduced margins, and other covered losses aggregating well in excess of $100,000,000. Continue reading “Recent Lawsuit Highlights Need for Careful Review of Cyberinsurance Policies”

California Corner: Loss of Use under Commercial General Liability Insurance Policies Includes the Inability to Use a Property in a Particular Manner

Julia K. Holt

Most commercial general liability (“CGL”) policies contain standard, insurance industry-drafted language regarding an insurer’s duty to defend and indemnify its insured. The language typically states something like, the insurer “will pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of . . . ‘property damage’ to which this insurance applies. We will have the right and duty to defend the insured against any ‘suit’ seeking those damages.” Commercial General Liability Insurance Policy Form No. CG 00 01 04 13, § I, Coverage A.1.a. (Insurance Services Office, Inc. 2012). “Property Damage” is defined as “[p]hysical injury to tangible property, including all resulting loss of use of that property” or “[l]oss of use of tangible property that is not physically injured.” Id. at § V, ¶ 17.a and b.

The second definition of “property damage” provides coverage when the allegations do not amount to physical injury of tangible property. However, insurers often attempt to strictly narrow the coverage available by arguing that certain types of lost use are not covered because they are merely the loss of economic privileges that accompany the property, such as the right to hold a liquor license or to use the property a certain way via a permit. In other words, insurers often argue that “loss of use” of tangible property requires the total loss of all uses on the property, not merely some uses. The California Court of Appeal recently rejected this argument. See Thee Sombrero, Inc. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 28 Cal. App. 5th 729, 239 Cal. Rptr. 3d 416 (2018). Continue reading “California Corner: Loss of Use under Commercial General Liability Insurance Policies Includes the Inability to Use a Property in a Particular Manner”

Insurance Coverage for Hurricanes: Insurers May Dispute “Causation”

Jared Zola, Linda Kornfeld, John E. Heintz, and Alan Rubin

Like the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season before it, the 2018 season brought devastating storms to the United States. A prime example: One of the most powerful hurricanes on record to hit Florida’s Panhandle wreaked havoc in October 2018 and left a trail of devastation in its wake as it weakened to tropical storm status but still brought large-scale destruction to southeastern states.

Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10 approximately 20 miles southeast of Panama City, Florida, with biblical 155 mph sustained winds, violent waves, and heavy rain. The extent of the damage in Florida is still being evaluated, but it is extensive to the naked eye. Two hospitals were evacuated. Many homes were destroyed, power lines were downed, cars and trucks overturned and destroyed.

It took weeks before roads were cleared and electricity was fully restored. Even once businesses reopened, the storm’s destruction prevented employees from traveling to work. In addition, municipalities reported decreased tax revenues from business closures. The economic impact of storm-related losses for businesses and municipalities combined will be significant. Continue reading “Insurance Coverage for Hurricanes: Insurers May Dispute “Causation””

Insurance Can Reduce the Financial Repercussions to Your Supply Chain of Superstorms, Wildfires, Climate Change, and Global Economic Disruptions

Welcome to “California Corner,” dedicated to posts authored by our new team of Insurance Recovery attorneys based in our Los Angeles office. Partner Linda Kornfeld, who serves as vice chair of the Insurance Recovery group, Partner David Thomas and Of Counsel Julia Holt focus on national and California-specific issues, including property and weather-related business interruption issues, data breach and privacy issues, and professional liability, asbestos, and environmental liabilities. Their clients include telecommunications companies, universities, real estate developers, manufacturers, and nonprofit organizations around the country. We hope you find their perspectives informative and insightful!

Linda Kornfeld, David Thomas, and Julia Holt

Many companies in today’s global economy are dependent upon the efficient and disruption-free operation of their multinational supply chains. Unfortunately, such supply chains are vulnerable to numerous physical and non-physical elements, including natural disasters, information technology failures, cyberattacks, pandemics, climate change, and civil and political unrest. These vulnerabilities can, and often do, result in the disruption of business operations resulting in significant financial losses. Continue reading “Insurance Can Reduce the Financial Repercussions to Your Supply Chain of Superstorms, Wildfires, Climate Change, and Global Economic Disruptions”