In Wake of Disasters, Do Not Just Assume No Coverage Available for Cannabis-Related Losses

As reported extensively in the media over the past week, the cannabis industry has been hit hard by recent natural disasters. While companies doing business in this industry may face some unique challenges in purchasing insurance, and when attempting to obtain coverage for losses, insurance coverage – contrary to certain media reports – nevertheless may be available to them.  As such, cannabis-related companies should not just pass on submitting claims to their insurers when they experience losses.  Nor should they reflexively forego obtaining insurance in the first place.

Recent media reports

Both the Northern California wildfires and Hurricane Maria have caused extensive cannabis-related losses:

  • On October 13, 2017, The New York Times reported: “Fatal fires that have consumed nearly 200,000 acres in Northern California, devastating the region’s vineyards particularly in Napa and Sonoma Counties, are also taking a toll on a fledgling industry just months before its debut: recreational marijuana. Many of the region’s farms, including those that harvest cannabis, have been scorched, including those in Sonoma County and in Mendocino County, the center of California’s marijuana industry. Mendocino is one of three California counties that comprise [the] Emerald Triangle, where much of the United States’ marijuana is produced.”
  • On October 12, 2017, cnn.com reported: “Blazes have destroyed a number of farms in Mendocino County right before legal recreational sales begin in California.”
  • Also on October 12, 2017, the USA Today reported that “[m]arijuana farmers and dispensary owners across Northern California are nervously watching as wildfires burn through some of the state’s prime cannabis growing areas and destroy valuable crops ….”
  • On October 11, 2017, Marijuana Business Daily reported: “Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s medical marijuana industry, setting back its development at least six months – if not much longer – and causing millions of dollars in damage to [medical marijuana] businesses. No outdoor marijuana cultivation facilities survived ….”

Often citing industry insiders, some of these publications have reported that insurance is not available to cover cannabis-related losses. The New York Times, for example, reported that “reliable insurance [is] difficult to acquire.”  Other publications went further, stating categorically that no insurance is available to the cannabis industry.  CNN reported:  “Cannabis cultivators cannot insure their businesses because federal law prohibits marijuana, which means that financial institutions can’t go near it.”  Likewise, the USA Today reported that “pot growers can’t get crop insurance like traditional farmers ….” Continue Reading

“Smoking Gun” Still Not Necessary To Prove Insurer Violated Pennsylvania’s Bad-Faith Statute

In Rancosky v. Washington National Insurance Company, No. 28 WAP 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court confirmed that, to prevail on a claim pursuant to Pennsylvania’s bad-faith statute, a policyholder does not have to prove that an insurance company acted with a “motive of self-interest or ill-will.”  While the Pennsylvania Superior Court had reached the same conclusion more than 20 years ago, the Supreme Court had never addressed the issue until just recently.

Proving that an insurance company acted with a bad motive can be quite challenging. As Reed Smith explained in an amicus brief it filed on behalf of its client in Rancosky, requiring “a policyholder to prove (by clear and convincing evidence, no less) the insurer’s bad motive (i.e., what was in the insurer’s head) … would make it exceedingly difficult to prove statutory bad faith, a task which is sufficiently difficult as is. This is especially true since insurers routinely seek to shield their true motives under the attorney-client privilege or attorney work product doctrine.”

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Baer agreed, rejecting the insurance industry’s long-running attempt to add just such a requirement to the elements of statutory bad faith in the commonwealth: Requiring “an ill-will level of culpability would limit recovery in any bad faith claim to the most egregious instances only where the plaintiff uncovers some sort of ‘smoking gun’ evidence indicating personal animus towards the insured.”  Justice Baer explained that the court did not believe that Pennsylvania’s legislature “intended to create a standard so stringent that it would be highly unlikely that any plaintiff could prevail thereunder when it created the remedy for bad faith.”

As addressed in more detail in Reed Smith’s recent client alert, “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Agrees That, to Prevail on Claim for Statutory Bad Faith, Policyholder Need Not Prove Insurer Acted with Self-Interest or Ill Will,” the Supreme Court’s decision in Rancosky is a welcome, albeit not unexpected, ruling for policyholders.  It confirms what has been the law of the commonwealth for more than two decades already:  Policyholders are not required to find the “smoking gun” to prevail on a claim for statutory bad faith.

Disaster Relief Resources For Individuals After Hurricanes Harvey And Irma

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have brought widespread destruction and extraordinary damage to property that will require a long recovery. Individuals will need substantial relief to replace and repair homes and personal property. This blog provides guidance about insurance and governmental resources available to assist individuals after these Hurricanes and discusses common issues and questions arising in seeking aid. Topics covered are disaster issues relating auto insurance, flood insurance, homeowners insurance, SBA disaster relief loans and refinancing, FEMA aid, mortgage forbearance, replacement of original documents, legal aid for low income individuals, and other related questions. For a helpful written compilation of links to resources: Reed Smith Harvey Relief Guide, Reed Smith Irma Relief Resources Guide, and Know Your FEMA Rights.

For information on Disaster Relief Resources For Individuals After Hurricanes Harvey And Irma, please view our video with partner James Davis and associate Emily Garrison.

When Assessing Insurance Needs, Medical-Marijuana Dispensaries Must Consider Pennsylvania Regulations

Pennsylvania’s burgeoning medical-marijuana industry is and will be carefully regulated. When purchasing insurance, medical-marijuana dispensaries should pay careful attention to the Commonwealth’s regulations, in particular to the regulations relating specifically to dispensaries. Pennsylvania’s medical-marijuana regulations are only temporary, and most of them (including the ones relating to dispensaries) will expire in 2018

Certain of those regulations directly address insurance. For example, Pennsylvania requires that dispensaries “obtain and maintain an appropriate amount of insurance coverage that insures the site and facility and equipment used in the operation of the facility.” 28 Pa. Code § 1141.44(a). “An adequate amount of comprehensive liability insurance covering the [dispensary’s] activities authorized by the permit shall begin on the date the initial permit is issued by the Department and continuing for as long as the [dispensary] is operating under the permit.” Id.

Pennsylvania also requires that all dispensaries “obtain and maintain workers’ compensation insurance coverage for employees at the time the [dispensary] is determined to be operational by the Department.” 28 Pa. Code § 1141.44(b). Continue Reading

Texas Legislature Votes to Restrict Policyholders’ Rights

Texas lawmakers are now on the fast track to restrict policyholders’ rights when their insurance companies fail to pay property insurance claims arising out of weather events, such as storms involving heavy winds and hail. Now that the Texas Senate has approved House Bill 1774, Governor Abbott is almost sure to sign it.  Unfortunately, this will unleash unexpected and unpleasant surprises for Texas businesses and other insurance policyholders.

Most significantly, this harmful piece of legislation is designed to cut back on penalties that are intended to deter bad faith conduct by insurance companies, as well as to empower policyholders to fight back when their claims are denied, delayed or handled in inappropriate ways. The new legislation seeks to diminish these substantial penalties that previous Texas legislatures created for the purpose of deterring such bad faith conduct by insurance companies.  Interest that can be awarded by Texas courts for certain property insurance claims would drop from 18 percent to 10 percent.  This is a dramatic reduction in the damages that can be awarded against insurers, and the impact must be understood as encouraging abuse and delay by insurers.

Continue Reading

Reps & Warranties Insurance Case Highlights the Need for New Expertise and Old-Time Common Sense

A rare lawsuit concerning coverage under a reps & warranties policy presents two issues of interest to M&A lawyers:

  1. If the insured under a reps & warranties insurance policy fails to obtain the insurer’s consent to a settlement, coverage for that settlement is forfeited, even if the settlement was “panicked” and on a short timeframe.
  2. Sell-side policies do not cover allegations of seller fraud. This is why buy-side policies are preferred – they cover the buyer’s losses resulting from seller fraud.

Continue Reading

Pennsylvania Court Confirms Multiple Trigger for Environmental Claims

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania gave policyholders another victory in the continuing battle with insurers over application of the “multiple trigger” doctrine.  In Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co. v. Johnson Matthey, Inc., the Commonwealth Court held that the multiple-trigger approach – which expands the number of policies potentially available to provide coverage for long-tail liabilities – can be applied to claims involving environmental contamination, rejecting another attempt by the insurance industry to limit application of the doctrine in Pennsylvania.  Significantly, the court held that in determining whether the multiple-trigger approach will apply, the critical factor is whether the underlying injury involves a long latency period between the initial exposure to the injurious condition, and the ultimate discovery (manifestation) of the resulting injury or damage.  Although the decision arises in the context of coverage for environmental contamination, its reasoning represents a sweeping rejection of recent attempts by the insurance industry to limit application of the multiple trigger to asbestos-related injuries.

Please click here to read the full alert.

Schrödinger’s Coverage: When a Risk is Covered and Not Covered by Insurance

When is a person an “employee” under one insurance policy but not an employee under another?   Conflicting or inconsistent definitions across multiple policy lines issued to the same company can give rise to significant gaps in insurance coverage, as a recent opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit instructs, Telamon Corp. v. Charter Oak Fire Insurance Co., Nos. 16-1205 & 16-1815 (7th Cir. March 9, 2017).

Telamon hired Juanita Berry in 2005 under a series of consulting agreements with her personal communications company, J. Starr Communications. Over the next six years, Berry’s job responsibilities expanded beyond the terms of the consulting agreements, with Telamon eventually naming her Vice President of Major Accounts, the senior-most manager in one of the company’s divisions on the East Coast.  Part of Berry’s job was to oversee an asset recovery program under which Telamon removed old AT&T equipment and sold it to salvagers.  But without the company’s knowledge, Berry personally removed the old equipment and sold it, keeping the money for herself.  By the time Telamon discovered the scheme, Berry had embezzled $5.2 million.  Telamon fired Berry, and the government indicted her on wire fraud and tax evasion charges.  She was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

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Eighth Circuit pollution-exclusion opinion a cautionary tale for natural gas industry

The interpretation and application of a pollution exclusion in a commercial general liability (“CGL”) policy is often a fact-specific and jurisdiction-specific exercise. That said, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit’s recent decision, applying North Dakota law and interpreting such an exclusion in a CGL policy, should command the attention of the entire natural gas industry.

At issue in Hiland Partners GP Holdings, LLC, et al. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA, No. 15-3936 (8th Cir. Jan. 31, 2017), was an explosion at a natural gas processing facility that “receives gas and hydrocarbon products and processes them into byproducts for sale.”  Appellants, who owned and operated the facility, were an additional insured under a third party’s CGL policy. Continue Reading

Reinsurance Deal Raises Red Flags

American International Group, Inc. (“AIG”) recently announced that it entered into a significant reinsurance agreement with a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (“Berkshire”). Reportedly, that agreement “covers 80% of substantially all of AIG’s U.S. Commercial long-tail exposures for accident years 2015 and prior.”  While AIG states that it “will retain sole authority to handle and resolve claims,” the details of the arrangement, by which the Berkshire subsidiary “has various access, association and consultation rights,” remain far from clear.  The involvement of the Berkshire subsidiary and any other related Berkshire entities, which have routinely put their economic interests ahead of their insureds’, should give policyholders pause.  Policyholders should remain vigilant and cautious.  To read our full alert on this topic, click here.

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