Commercial General Liability

Online retailers have changed the way we shop. No longer do we spend hours in line queuing for a can opener or, perhaps more appropriately in current times, an air fryer. Nowadays, at the click of a button, we have items expeditiously delivered straight to our door. And soon, it will be straight to our door without a human touch.

Last year, certain retailers began trialling drone delivery, marking the dawn of a new era of deliveries.

This latest development is one the insurance market cannot ignore. The drone insurance market is growing, and it looks like it will continue to do so as technology develops and retailers rely on drones to deliver parcels.Continue Reading Delivery by drone? Insurance needed!

At least since the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Buss v. Superior Court, 939 P.2d 766 (Cal. 1997), insurance companies have urged courts to let them sue their own policyholders to recoup the costs that the insurance companies paid to defend their policyholders if, at the end of the day, some or all of the claims are excluded from coverage. The Hawaii Supreme Court is the latest state supreme court to reject the Buss approach, instead requiring the insurance company to bear the full cost of its duty to defend.Continue Reading Hawaii Supreme Court rejects insurance company claims for defense expense reimbursement

The landscape of biometric privacy litigation already has changed dramatically in 2023. Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Tims v. Black Horse Carriers, Inc., 2023 IL 127801, that claims for violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) (which allows individuals to sue companies directly for the wrongful collection or disclosure of their biometric data) are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Later that month, in Cothron v. White Castle System, Inc., 2023 IL 128004, the court ruled that a BIPA violation accrues each time an individual’s data is improperly collected or shared, not merely the first time. Taken together, these rulings significantly broaden the scope of claims facing companies that have violated BIPA and the damages flowing from such violations.

In recognition of the dystopian risks presented by the rampant, unlawful sharing of biometric data, several more states are jumping on Illinois’ bandwagon, attempting to pass BIPA-like laws. According to Bloomberg, legislation proposed in nine other states also would grant a private right of action to individuals whose biometric data was wrongly collected or shared.

Despite the growing threat of civil litigation related to the mishandling of biometric data, there is a silver lining for corporate policyholders: the opportunity to obtain insurance coverage for biometric privacy liability has never been greater.Continue Reading Key considerations for policyholders after landmark biometric privacy decisions reshape insurance landscape

As a general rule, if a policyholder reasonably attempts to settle a case for an amount at or within the limits of its insurance policy, the insurance company must put the policyholder’s interests above its own. Typically, if the insurance company does not accept a reasonable settlement within limits, then it may be responsible for a judgment amount in excess of the policy limits if the insurance company’s refusal to settle was unreasonable. The insurance company’s failure to settle may result in a bad faith claim. But what if the insurance company refuses to settle and the policyholder prevails at trial? According to a federal district court in New Jersey, if the insurance company’s decision not to settle was unreasonable, it may still be liable for bad faith.

Summary of recent New Jersey federal court decision

BrightView Enterprise Solutions, LLC v. Farm Family Casualty Insurance Company, No. 20cv7915 (EP) (AME), 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20764 (D.N.J. Feb. 7, 2023) is not your typical bad faith “failure to settle” case. It involved three different companies that were insured under a single commercial general liability insurance policy issued by Farm Family. The three companies were involved in a project to overhaul an irrigation system at a Bank of America branch in New Jersey. A Bank of America employee “slipped and fell” on a puddle of water and hit her head. The injured employee filed suit against all three companies, alleging that her “slip and fall” caused a permanent disability. Farm Family agreed to defend and provide coverage for all three defendants up to its $1 million policy limit.Continue Reading An insurance company’s refusal to settle can be bad faith, even if the policyholder ultimately prevails at trial

The well-established principle that a policyholder may assign benefits under an insurance policy following a loss was recently reaffirmed by state supreme courts in two jurisdictions:  South Carolina and Puerto Rico. These two jurisdictions join the majority rule, which holds that assignments following an insured loss are permissible because they do not change the scope of the insured risk.  The majority rule makes commercial sense, as it ensures the free alienability of property, while at the same time maintaining the benefit of the bargain that was struck when the insurance company underwrote the policy. 

San Luis Center Apartments v. Triple-S Propiedad, Inc., 2022 WL 611245 (P.R. Feb. 15, 2022)

In a February 2022 decision, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, addressing an issue of first impression, ruled that an insured property owner’s assignment of both the prosecution of its claim and a portion of claim proceeds to an investment company was proper, notwithstanding a non-assignment clause in the policy, because the assignment was made after the policyholder’s property sustained damage during Hurricane Maria.  The court rejected the insurance company’s argument that the suit against it could not proceed because the policyholder, in making the assignment, had purportedly breached the insurance policy’s non-assignment clause, which provided that “[y]our rights and duties under this policy may not be transferred without our written consent.”  In reaching its holding, the court reasoned that because the assignment was made after the property damage occurred, the change in the claimant’s identity did not alter the risk that had been underwritten, the scope of the policy’s coverage or the amount the insurance company would be obligated to pay. Therefore, the policyholder did not breach the contract by making the assignment. Continue Reading Two state Supreme Courts reach commercially reasonable results by permitting post-loss assignments  

Since the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling that class actions alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) trigger general liability coverage, the focus of BIPA coverage litigation has shifted to the applicability of three exclusions often found in general liability policies: (1) the Employment Related Practices exclusion, (2) the Violation of Statutes exclusion, and (3) the Access or Disclosure exclusion.  Although the first quarter of 2022 brought a mixed bag of opinions, with four out of seven resulting in a finding of coverage, the scorecard with respect to each specific exclusion tells a different story that generally favors the policyholders.  As outlined in this blog post, insureds facing BIPA lawsuits therefore have plenty of reason to continue pressing their insurers for coverage.

Employment-related practices exclusions

The Employment-Related Practices exclusion bars coverage for bodily injury or personal and advertising injury to a person arising out of any of the following:

  • Refusal to employ that person
  • Termination of that person’s employment
  • Employment-related practices, policies, acts or omissions, such as coercion, demotion, evaluation, reassignment, discipline, defamation, harassment, humiliation, or discrimination directed at that person

In coverage disputes arising out of employment-based BIPA class actions, the issue is whether the conduct at issue is an employment-related practice that falls within the third prong of the exclusion.

As outlined in a previous blog post, there is case law outside of the BIPA context standing for the proposition that the phrase “employment-related” has a narrow meaning and only refers to matters that concern the employment relationship itself. According to this line of case law, where the conduct at issue in a lawsuit does not arise out of personnel management or employee discipline (i.e., the employment relationship), but instead merely happens to involve an employee, the third prong of the exclusion does not bar coverage.Continue Reading Recent opinions provide support for insureds seeking coverage for BIPA claims

If an insurance company owes a duty to defend, the dispute should be decided promptly, on the pleadings. Any delay undermines the duty to defend. The scope of the duty to defend should be adjudicated on the pleadings as quickly as possible to give policyholders the true value of their policies and the benefit of their contracts.

The value and purpose of the duty to defend

The duty to defend is one of the most valuable components of an insurance policy. Like it or not, American society is litigious. Companies cannot prevent lawsuits through good conduct, laudable intentions, or strong compliance programs.  Refuting liability and damages is expensive even if the core facts are undisputed or the case is frivolous.

For a single company or individual, the frequency and size of litigation generally is unpredictable, making budgeting for defense costs a difficult task.  In any single year, the risk of litigation is low, but when a claim does come in, defense costs can be significant.  This litigation landscape is a problem for legal departments trying to budget or reserve for litigation costs.

The duty to defend addresses this problem using the principles of risk transfer and risk pooling.

  • Risk transfer: the risk and costs of defending litigation is transferred to the insurance company in exchange for a premium payment.
  • Risk pooling: the insurance company takes the collective risks of litigation against all policyholders in a pool large enough that aggregate defense costs can be statistically analyzed and predicted on an annual basis.

This way no one has to assess the risk that any individual company is sued or anticipate those defense costs. Policyholders can include insurance premium costs in their legal budgets, and shift covered defense costs onto the insurer. The insurance company underwriters can evaluate the aggregate defense spend at a gross systemic level and charge premiums to cover those costs (with a healthy profit margin).Continue Reading The duty to defend requires an early judgment

An often-overlooked 2020 New York federal court decision allows policyholders to potentially recover attorneys’ fees when they bring a declaratory judgment action against an insurance company that has made litigation inevitable by resisting its duty to defend. In Houston Casualty Company v. Prosight Specialty Insurance Company, 462 F. Supp. 3d 443, 444 (S.D.N.Y. 2020), the District Court for the Southern District of New York held that an insurance company’s duty to defend obliges it to pay for attorneys’ fees and costs that an additional insured incurred in attempting to establish the duty to defend at the time the insurance company resisted such a duty.

The Houston Casualty Company case concerned an underlying lawsuit brought against New York University Hospitals Center (NYUHC) by an individual who was injured on its premises. The individual was injured due to a mis-leveled elevator maintained by a New York corporation, Nouveau. NYUHC brought a third-party complaint against Nouveau, as it had agreed to hold NYUHC harmless for any claims or liabilities arising out of the maintenance and repair of elevators on NYUHC’s property.

Houston Casualty Company (HCC) issued a general liability policy to the injured individual’s employer and HCC provided a defense to NYUHC and the construction company on the site, but HCC asserted that the primary obligation to defend these lawsuits belonged to Nouveau’s general liability insurance company, New York Marine (Note: New York Marine was named incorrectly by the plaintiff, HCC, as Prosight in the case). HCC sought declaratory judgments as to NYUHC’s additional insured status; New York Marine’s duty to defend and indemnify NYUHC; and HCC’s entitlement to reimbursement for all amounts paid by HCC, including attorneys’ fees, for the defense of the underlying action. These questions were resolved by agreement of the parties, and New York Marine conceded it had a duty to defend. However, the district court considered one unresolved issue regarding “whether NYUHC is entitled to recover, from New York Marine, the fees and expenses it incurred in attempting, successfully, to establish New York Marine’s duty to defend NYUHC in the consolidated [underlying] lawsuits.” Id. at 449.Continue Reading New York’s exception allowing attorney’s fees for policyholders

In West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. v. Krishna Schaumburg Tan, Inc., 2021 IL 125978, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that coverage existed for a class action alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) under the terms of a general liability policy. Although a win for the policyholder bar, the precedential value of Krishna was arguably limited by the fact that the underlying class action targeted the insured’s use of customer biometrics. Where the use of employee biometrics is at issue instead, policyholders are likely to face unique coverage issues left open by Krishna, such as the applicability of certain exclusions that bar coverage for injuries arising out of the employment relationship. This blog post provides a brief overview of the employment-related practices (ERP) exclusion and explains why it should not apply to preclude coverage for employment-based BIPA class actions.

Employment-related practices exclusions

The ERP exclusion is a common provision in commercial general liability policies. As it is usually drafted, the exclusion bars coverage for bodily injury or personal and advertising injury to a person arising out of any of the following:

  • Refusal to employ that person
  • Termination of that person’s employment
  • Employment-related practices, policies, acts or omissions, such as coercion, demotion, evaluation, reassignment, discipline, defamation, harassment, humiliation, or discrimination directed at that person

In coverage disputes arising out of employment-based BIPA class actions, the issue will be whether the conduct at issue is an employment-related practice that falls within the third prong of the exclusion.

Case law analyzing employment-related practices exclusions

Several courts that have analyzed the scope of the ERP exclusion have concluded that it should be interpreted narrowly. For instance, in Peterborough Oil Co. v. Great American Insurance Co., after the insured fired an employee for theft and pressed charges, the employee sued the insured for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 397 F. Supp. 2d 230, 234 (D. Mass. 2005). The insured tendered the lawsuit under its commercial general liability policy, and the insurer denied coverage in reliance on the policy’s ERP exclusion. Id. at 235. The insured filed a coverage action and argued that the exclusion did not apply. Id.Continue Reading Employment-related practices exclusions and Biometric Information Privacy Act litigation

Directors’ and officers’ liability (D&O) insurance protects the personal assets of corporate directors and officers in the event of a lawsuit or other “claim” made against them for, among other things, an alleged breach of their duties in managing the organization.  D&O insurance directly covers individual directors and officers for their defense costs, judgments against them, and settlements when they cannot be indemnified by the company, and also covers the company to the extent it pays defense costs, judgments, and settlements as indemnification.  It may also cover the legal fees and other costs incurred by the company as a result of a securities claim made against the company as an entity.

The first installment of this blog series on D&O insurance addressed several “nuts and bolts” features of D&O insurance, including the key insuring agreements and definitions. This post discusses key exclusions, as well as common policyholder pitfalls, and new issues that are emerging in 2020.

Key D&O exclusions

All D&O insurance policies contain exclusions.  D&O insurance policies are not standardized, however, so the number and wording of the exclusions may vary from policy to policy and insurer to insurer.  Most traditional D&O insurance policies can be expected to contain the following exclusions:Continue Reading D&O insurance basics (Part 2)