Yesterday, the Oregon Court of Appeals dealt a hefty blow to insurance companies seeking to exclude coverage for property damage to multi-family dwellings and for awards of attorney fees. In Hunters Ridge Condominium Ass’n v. Sherwood Crossing, LLC, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that an insurance company’s “Multi-Unit New Residential Construction” exclusion was unclear as to whether it excluded coverage for property damage to both residential-only and mixed-use condominiums. Given there were two plausible ways to read the exclusion, the Oregon Court of Appeals held the exclusion must be construed against the insurance company. Continue Reading Not so fast insurance company, that judgment against your insured may in fact be covered
Businesses buy liability insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits brought by people injured by the business’s employees. But after the injury, and after the plaintiff has sued, the main concern is often between the injured plaintiff and the insurer for the business that doesn’t want to pay.
In this context, the defendant often settles the lawsuit and then gets out of the way to let the plaintiff get what it can from the insurer, which is often the only party with enough money to pay a judgment. But structuring this resolution must be undertaken with great care in recognizing legal niceties that, missing a crossed “t” or dotted “i” in the process, can give the insurer a free get-out-of-jail card, as a recent case arising out of a tragic accident in Boston shows. Continue Reading Pitfalls abound in settling around an insurer acting in bad faith
Back in August 2015, I wrote this post about the Oregon Court of Appeals opinion in West Hills Development Co. v. Chartis Claims, Inc., where the court confirmed that Oregon’s broad duty to defend extended to parties claiming rights as “additional insureds.” Last week, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that decision, broadly holding that “regardless of ambiguity or lack of clarity, the duty to defend is triggered if the complaint’s allegations, reasonable interpreted, could result in the insured being held liable for damages covered by the policy.” Continue Reading Oregon Supreme Court reaffirms broad nature of the duty to defend, even in the face of ambiguous or unclear allegations
One of the most misunderstood provisions in a Commercial General Liability policy is the first sentence, which provides that the insurance company promises to provide coverage for damages “because of” bodily injury or property damage. Many people, including seasoned insurance professionals, believe CGL policies merely provide coverage “for” bodily injury or property damage. We see this every day, including in motions filed by insurance companies. Continue Reading Court finds plaintiff’s attorney fees covered by liability policy
Following a significant victory for policyholders earlier this year for cyber security losses under CGL (Commercial General Liability) policies, in PF Chang’s China Bistro, Inv. v. Federal Ins. Co. a federal judge in Arizona recently found no coverage for PF Chang’s credit card fraud assessments under a specialty cyber insurance policy. After a 2014 breach, hackers posted PF Chang’s customers’ credit card numbers online. It then incurred almost $1.7 million in claims from its customers and associated mitigation and other expenses. Federal Insurance Company reimbursed PF Chang’s for those expenses. But what it failed to do—and which was the subject of coverage litigation—was pay for the additional $1.9 million in fraud recovery charges from various credit card companies. Continue Reading Courts continue to struggle with specialty cyber-insurance products
Nevada recently became the latest jurisdiction to protect the interests of policyholders by adopting the so-called Cumis counsel rule. In State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Hansen (Sept. 24, 2015), the Nevada Supreme Court held that insurers are required to pay for independent counsel for insureds facing liability claims when there is a conflict of interest between the insured and insurer. In so holding, Nevada joined the list of states to ensure that policyholders have the benefit of being represented by counsel that has only the policyholders’ interests in mind—and not those of the insurer. Continue Reading Nevada Joins States Protecting Insureds from Lawyers Serving Two Masters
Coverage litigation stemming from continuous or progressive property damage or bodily injury claims typically involves multiple insurers that issued liability policies over a number of years. One or more of those insurers may want to settle early, and the policyholder may very well want to take that insurer’s money. Settlement may be complicated, however, by the potential equitable contribution rights of the other, non-settling insurers. The settling insurer wants to close its file without the risk of being dragged back into the litigation through a contribution claim. But the sophisticated policyholder is rightfully reluctant to agree to defend and indemnify the settling insurer, taking on the risk that a court could later conclude that the settlement was too low. Continue Reading Federal court applies Oregon statute to approve “good faith” settlement in environmental insurance litigation
As I wrote in an earlier blog post (see my August 10, 2015 article here), insurers have a duty to defend their policyholders against any potentially covered loss, which means that insurers are required to defend and attempt to settle claims on behalf of their policyholders even when coverage for the underlying claim is uncertain or doubtful. But as a recent case from the Washington Court of Appeals illustrates, insurers may not be off the hook even if the duty to defend does not apply. Washington, like a number of other states, has enacted consumer-protection statutes that can provide powerful remedies to policyholders whose insurers failed to properly investigate claims before denial.
On August 24 2015, Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals issued a decision that is certain to make insurers tremble. In Xia v. ProBuilders Specialty Insurance, the court upheld a summary-judgment order holding that the insurer did not breach its duty to defend, but nonetheless left open the possibility that the insured could recover damages under Washington’s Insurance Fair Conduct Act (“IFCA”) and/or the state’s Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”). Continue Reading Insurer’s claim denial may violate state consumer-protection statutes even when the insurer has no duty to defend
A recent opinion out of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Florida highlights the importance of properly pleading claims so that insurance coverage is triggered.
In Mid-Continent Cas. Co. v. Royal Crane, LLC, Cloutier Brothers, Inc. leased a crane and crane operator from Royal Crane, LLC. During construction, a truss fell from the crane and injured a construction worker. The worker sued Royal Crane, asserting claims for negligence, strict liability, and gross negligence. Royal Crane tendered its defense of the lawsuit to Cloutier under an indemnity clause in the parties’ rental agreement. Cloutier declined the tender “at the behest” of its insurer, Mid-Continent.
So Royal Crane sued, bringing a third-party action against Cloutier for contractual indemnification and breach of the rental agreement. Cloutier tendered the defense of these claims to Mid-Continent, which denied the duty to defend under the exclusion for Cloutier’s potential obligation to pay “by reason of the assumption of liability in a contract or agreement.” The poison pill for coverage turned on Royal Crane’s failure to plead around this exclusion. Continue Reading Florida Court of Appeal case serves as a reminder to be mindful of how claims are pleaded
On August 19, 2015, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued its opinion in West Hills Development Co. v. Chartis Claims, Inc., reaffirming the broad nature of an insurer’s duty to defend, even when that duty is owed to an “additional insured.”
Contracting parties rely on indemnity agreements and additional insured status to protect against liability arising from the other party’s negligence. Insurers, however, frequently ignore or summarily deny tenders from parties who qualify as additional insureds under the policies they issued. That is exactly what happened in West Hills. Continue Reading Oregon’s broad duty to defend extends to “additional insureds”