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At $40-70 billion in estimated insured losses, Hurricane Ian is the nation’s second most expensive natural disaster for the insurance industry. Less than two months later, Hurricane Nicole made landfall in Florida. Securing insurance coverage for these losses will be an important part of rebuilding and recovery.

Recently, Reed Smith’s insurance coverage lawyers hosted a webinar, “Maximizing Insurance Recovery after Hurricane Ian,” to answer several frequently asked questions policyholders ask (or should ask) to ensure maximum recovery after these natural disasters. We summarize a few of those answers below.

What type of insurance coverage applies? Property Damage? Business Income? Ordinance and Law? Service Interruption? All of the above?

Put simply, the answer is: It depends on the facts and the language of the policy, but one or more types of coverage may apply. For example, a policyholder may have property damage coverage if they sustained physical damage to buildings, business property (e.g., machinery, equipment, raw materials, etc.), or property of others in the policyholder’s control. That same policyholder may also have service interruption coverage if they experienced dislocation of utility or telecommunications service and suffered business income losses as a result.

All types of common coverages are discussed during the webinar, which can be viewed on demand.Continue Reading Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole: Answering questions policyholders frequently ask (or should ask) to ensure maximum recovery

This year, Hurricane Ian swept through the Southeastern United States, causing extensive damage to property in the affected areas. While obtaining insurance recoveries for any loss can be a complex endeavor, recovery for hurricane loss is particularly complex, as it typically involves a mix of covered and excluded perils. Most standard homeowners or other property insurance policies provide coverage for wind-related losses, but exclude coverage for loss caused by flood. While some policyholders may have purchased standard flood insurance policies that provide coverage for flood losses; many have not. Whether the policyholder has a homeowner’s or general property policy, a flood insurance policy, or both, the question of recovery for damage caused by mixed wind and flood forces requires a complex analysis as both covered and uncovered causes may contribute to the damage to insured property. 

Analyzing combined causes of loss

Where a loss stems from multiple causes, some covered and others excluded, coverage will depend on whether the causes are contributing, or separate and independent causes of loss. 

Where separate perils combine to create one indivisible loss, these will be considered combined or contributing causes of loss and courts will generally apply one of two tests:

  1. A majority of jurisdictions apply the efficient proximate cause test. This test permits recovery for loss caused by a combination of covered and excluded perils when the efficient proximate cause, i.e. the primary event producing the loss, is a covered cause of loss.
  2. The concurrent cause doctrine, the minority approach, provides coverage for combined-peril claims so long as a covered cause of loss is a contributing cause of the loss, regardless of whether it is the primary cause or not. 

Continue Reading Maximizing recovery for combined wind and flood damages in hurricane claims

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the battles over threshold business interruption coverage issues like the presence of physical loss or damage, causation, and the applicability of policy exclusions continue to rage.  Results have been mixed, with insurers notching wins in federal courts, and policyholders faring better in state courts and in certain jurisdictions.

But scores of policyholders who have avoided pre-discovery dismissal are now grappling with how other policy terms will impact their recovery.

Chief among these – particularly for policyholders with diverse and widespread physical locations and operations – is the impact of a classic question typically dealt with in handling catastrophic liability claims: how many occurrences are there?

The answer has profound implications for the amount of recovery, as it affects not only how deductibles may (or may not) apply but also how primary and excess coverage might respond to a large loss.

Three “tests” have emerged in case law to deal with this problem in the liability context. The “cause” test (adopted by the majority of jurisdictions) determines the number of “occurrences” by looking to the number of causes of injury or loss. The “effect” test determines the number of “occurrences” by looking to the number of resulting injuries or losses. And the “continuous process” test determines the number of occurrences by looking at the number of processes resulting in damage that were continuous, repetitive, and interrelated. See, e.g., Unigard Ins. Co. v. United States Fid. & Guar. Co., 728 P.2d 780 (Idaho Ct. App. 1986).Continue Reading “Occurrences” in COVID-19 business interruption litigation

Putting an end to a 12-year-old dispute between J.P. Morgan Securities’ predecessor, Bear Stearns & Co., and several of its insurers, on November 23, 2021, New York’s high court held that J.P. Morgan’s $140 million payment to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) did not constitute an uninsurable “penalty” under J.P. Morgan’s excess directors & officers (D&O) liability policies. This is welcome news for policyholders faced with coverage denials from their insurers based on “public policy,” “fines or penalty,” “disgorgement” or other grounds of alleged uninsurability.

In J.P. Morgan, J.P. Morgan’s $140 million “disgorgement” payment was part of a larger $250 million settlement between J.P. Morgan and the SEC. $90 million of the settlement was specifically allocated to “civil money penalties.” The settlement resolved allegations that Bear Stearns & Co. and other securities broker-dealers facilitated late trading and deceptive market timing practices by their customers in connection with the purchase and sale of mutual funds.

J.P. Morgan’s excess policies covered “loss” that the insured entities became liable to pay as the result of any civil proceeding or governmental investigation alleging wrongful acts constituting violations of laws or regulations. The policies defined “loss” to include various types of compensatory and punitive damages where “insurable by law,” but specifically excluded matters uninsurable as a matter of public policy and “fines or penalties imposed by law.” The insurers argued that the disgorgement payment was uninsurable as a matter of New York law both as form of restitution of ill-gotten gains and as a penalty imposed by law.Continue Reading End to long-running dispute over uninsurability under D&O insurance

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a wave of business interruption lawsuits, particularly between policyholders and their insurance companies. Initially, the nationwide trend was in favor of insurance companies, but recent decisions confirm that policyholders are gaining traction.

Policyholder arguments gather steam in court

One of the pioneer lawsuits, for example, recently survived a summary judgment motion. In Cajun Conti LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, No. 2020-02558 (La. Civ. Dist. Ct., Orleans Parish, Nov. 4, 2020), the policyholder, a restaurant group, sought a judgment declaring that its insurance company should cover losses related to an order entered by Louisiana’s governor banning gatherings of 250 people or more. This caused the restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity and cease service by 9 p.m. On November 4, 2020, the Louisiana state court denied the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment after finding the following four issues of material fact:

(1) Whether COVID-19 constitutes direct physical loss or damage;

(2) Whether the policy interests necessitate a more liberal reading of prior case law;

(3) If COVID-19 constituted a physical loss or damage, whether COVID-19 impacts the environment;

(4) In the context of civil authority coverage, whether COVID-19-related damages to property at another location within one mile of any of the restaurants is a covered cause of loss.

Likewise, a Pennsylvania state court overruled the insurance company’s motion to dismiss a tavern’s complaint for business interruption coverage because “at this very early stage, it would be premature for this court [to] resolve the factual determinations put forth by defendant to dismiss plaintiff’s claims.” Taps & Bourbon on Terrace, LLC v. Those Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, No. 00375 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Phila. Cnty. Oct. 27, 2020) (emphasis added). The complaint alleged that the tavern sustained business losses resulting from “the COVID-19 pandemic and . . . state and local orders mandating that all non-essential businesses be temporarily closed.” The order also recognized that “the law and facts are rapidly evolving in the area of COVID-19-related business losses.”

Interpretation of “physical loss of or damage to” property

One area of law that has developed is the interpretation of the phrase “physical loss of or damage to” property, which is commonly found in policies at issue in COVID-19 business interruption cases. Noting the import of the disjunctive “or” in the phrase “physical loss of or damage to” property, the court in Hill and Stout PLLC v. Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Company, No. 20-2-07925-1 (Wash. Super. Ct. King Cnty. Nov. 3, 2020) held that the policy provided alternative means for coverage: (1) physical loss of property (the Physical Loss Option) and (2) damage to property (the Damage Option). The Washington state court found the Physical Loss Option ambiguous and, consequently, construed it in favor of the policyholder. Under this interpretation, the court concluded that a dental practice’s alleged inability “to see patients and practice dentistry” sufficed to trigger the Physical Loss Option for coverage under the policy.Continue Reading Recent pro-policyholder COVID-19 business interruption decisions