General Liability Policies

A recent California appellate court decision found that a wage and hour exclusion in an Employment Practices Liability Insurance (“EPLI”) policy did not bar coverage for claims under California Labor Code sections 2800 and 2802 alleging failure to reimburse expenses. S. Cal. Pizza Co., LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London Subscribing to Policy No. 11EPL-20208, Case No. G056243, 2019 WL 4572859 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2019), as modified on denial of reh’g (Sept. 20, 2019). This is a significant decision. It gives policyholders an argument that insurers must defend wage and hour suits that include covered allegations of failure to reimburse expenses, as the court in Southern California Pizza found. 
Continue Reading

In Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Company, the California Supreme Court resolved two previously open questions in insurance law: (1) it concluded that the notice-prejudice rule[1] is a fundamental public policy of California, and (2) it concluded that the notice-prejudice rule applies to consent provisions, but only in first-party policies.

This decision provides three primary lessons to insureds. First, when a first-party insurer cites a strict notice provision as a complete bar to coverage, a California policyholder should respond by citing the notice-prejudice rule, even if the policy selects the law of a state that does not follow the notice-prejudice ruleSecond, the insured should do the same if a first-party insurer cites a consent provision as a basis to limit coverage for otherwise-covered expenses. In both cases, the notice-prejudice rule may override the choice of law provision and preserve coverage unless the insurer was actually and substantially prejudiced by the delayed notice/consent. Third, in the case of third-party policies, the insured should continue to promptly notify the insurer in the event of a claim and should seek consent before incurring otherwise-covered expenses. The insured should not rely on the notice-prejudice rule to potentially save coverage where it delays notice or fails to seek consent for expenses under a third-party policy.
Continue Reading

Massachusetts Appeals Court Gets It Right – Mostly

Hot on the heels of the Federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in MTI, Inc. v. Employers Insurance Company of Wausau, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 321423 (10th Cir. 2019) (about which I wrote earlier this month), the Appeals Court of Massachusetts also found that the phrase “that particular part” as used in exclusions j(5) and j(6) in the CGL policy must be applied narrowly. In All America Ins. Co. v. Lampasona Concrete Corp., 95 Mass. App. Ct. 79 (2019), the court held that damage caused to an underlying vapor barrier and a tile and carpet finish applied on top of the concrete floor slab poured by Lampasona was not excluded from coverage by the j(6) exclusion in the Lampasona’s policy. The court found that Lampasona did not install the vapor barrier or the tile/carpet, so they were not “that particular part” on which Lampasona was working.


Continue Reading

Insurers often claim “economic damages” are not covered under a standard commercial general liability (CGL) policy. The Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Thee Sombrero, Inc. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 28 Cal. App. 5th 729, 736 (2018) review and request to depublish denied (Jan. 30, 2019), demonstrates that “loss of use” can be measured by “economic damages”—i.e., loss in profit or diminution in value—so long as they are tied to a property interest.

In Thee Sombrero, Inc., the insured’s negligent security services resulted in the revocation of Thee Sombrero’s permit to use its property as a night club after a patron was allowed to enter without passing through the metal detector, resulting in a fatal shooting. Thee Sombrero sued the security company, and obtained a default judgment. Thee Sombrero then pursued Scottsdale to satisfy the judgment. The trial court found in favor of Scottsdale, but the Court of Appeal reversed, finding that “the loss of the ability to use the property as a nightclub is, by definition, a ‘loss of use’ of ‘tangible property.’ It defies common sense to argue otherwise.” Id.
Continue Reading

On January 15, 2019, the Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the California Supreme Court:

Does a commercial liability policy that covers “personal injury,” defined as “injury… arising out of… [o]ral or written publication… of material that violates a person’s rights of privacy,” trigger the insurer’s duty to defend the insured against a claim that the insured violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending unsolicited text message advertisement that did not reveal any private information?
Yahoo! Inc. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., No. 17-16452, D.C. No. 5:17-cv-0447-NC.

Yahoo! sought coverage under its general liability policies issued by National Union for a number of putative class actions alleging that it violated the TCPA by transmitting unsolicited text message advertisements to putative class members. National Union denied coverage and Yahoo! sued for breach of contract. The Northern District granted National Union’s motion to dismiss and Yahoo! appealed that order to the Ninth Circuit.


Continue Reading

In an unpublished decision, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Central District of California’s interpretation of the related acts provision in a professional liability policy, holding that related acts reported in a prior policy period were not excluded from coverage in a subsequent period because that policy defined “Policy Period” to mean only the current policy period, not any policy period. Attorneys Insurance Mutual Risk Retention Group, Inc. v. Liberty Surplus Ins. Co., No. 17-55597 (9th Cir., Feb. 15, 2019). As a result, the related acts clause, which incorporated this term, could not be read to aggregate claims first made under prior policy periods with those made in the current period. The case reinforces the importance of reviewing the particular language of an insurance policy rather than relying on case law interpreting similar language. Small differences in policy language can lead to significant changes in the available coverage.
Continue Reading

In November, Tyler wrote about insurance issues raised by both the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect on January 1, 2020. California’s governor Jerry Brown signed two other cyber-related laws in September, which will also go into effect on January 1, 2020 – Assembly Bill 1906 and Senate Bill 327, which address security concerns relating to devices that are capable of connecting to the internet – the so-called Internet of Things or “IoT”. See California Civil Code 1798.91.04(a) et seq.

The bills largely mirror each other and, put very simply, require manufacturers of devices that are capable of being connected to the internet to equip them with “reasonable” security features that are both appropriate to the device and require a user to generate a new means of authentication before access is granted to the device for the first time. Technologists are debating whether the laws are good or bad, and if good, whether they go far enough. Regardless, the law will become effective and manufacturers of IoT devices will have to comply with them. The law does not provide for a private right of action; it permits the state’s Attorney General to enforce its provisions.

The new California law applies to all connected devices sold or offered for sale in California. Because California is such a large market, this likely means that all such devices sold in North America and Europe will comply with California’s regulations, and older, less secure devices will be diverted to countries with fewer regulations.


Continue Reading

I recently participated in a panel at the Association of Business Trial Lawyers Annual Meeting – “Bad News Delivered: The Board Meeting and Crisis Management.”  Among other topics, the panel discussed the role of insurance counsel in crisis management, and addressed the following questions:

Who Is The Client? 

When meeting with a board in a time of crisis, it is critical to identify whether your client is the company or the board.  And if it is the company, the board must understand that while they are the decision-makers for your client, they themselves are not your clients.

Depending on whom you represent, your advice and strategy may differ.  Although acting on behalf of the company and bound by fiduciary duties and the duty of loyalty, in a time of crisis board members may be concerned about how the company’s insurance can be used to protect their interests, as opposed to the company’s.  If counsel is representing the company, the strategy may focus on preserving the coverage to settle a nasty case, fund burdensome defense or investigation costs, or protect individuals who are critical to the company’s on-going business strategies.  And if the company is in bankruptcy, the debtor in possession or trustee may want to preserve the assets for claims against the estate, as opposed to lower priority indemnity claims or non-indemnifiable claims against individual insureds such as board members.

If counsel is representing an individual, he or she may have the luxury of an indemnification from the company – assuming the company is able to fulfill it.  If not, counsel may need to invoke Side A or other provisions in the policy to preserve the policy limits for the individual directors or officers, and access to much-needed defense costs.
Continue Reading

A federal district court in Florida has ruled that a claim against a policyholder arising out of a hacker’s theft of confidential credit card information was not covered under a commercial general liability (CGL) policy.  St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Rosen Millennium, Inc., M.D. Fla. Case No. 17-cv-540 (Sept. 28, 2018).  This is not the first such decision.  Courts have held similarly in Innovak Int’l, Inc. v. Hanover Ins. Co., 280 F.Supp.3d 1340, 1347-1348 (M.D. Fla. 2017) and Zurich American Ins. Co. v. Sony Corp. of America,  2014 WL 3253541, 2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5141 at *71 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Feb. 21, 2014).

While we disagree with these courts’ reasoning, policyholders concerned about data breach liability should take note of these decisions and consider buying more reliable insurance protection for this risk.
Continue Reading

Defense counsel often assume that an insurer has a “duty” to fund any settlement opportunity their client wants to accept. The legal requirements under California law for triggering an insurer’s duty to settle are far more nuanced.  For non-insurance practitioners, this is often a confounding and confusing topic!  The fact is, an insurer doesn’t have