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

settlement-statementFor decades, California courts have mandated that an insurer is obligated to accept a “reasonable” settlement demand within policy limits on behalf of its insured. If it fails to do so, it is liable for the entire judgment, including amounts in excess of the policy limits. Comunale v. Traders & Gen. Ins. Co. (1958) 50 Cal.2d 654, 659. Subsequent cases have addressed whether an insurer can escape excess liability if its decision-making process, as opposed to the settlement itself, was “reasonable”. California law is clear that even an honest mistake as to whether the claim is covered does not absolve an insurer from excess liability. Johansen v. Calif. State Auto Association Inter-Ins. Bureau (1975) 15 Cal.3d 9, 15-16. However, courts have also considered whether an insured must show the insurer acted “unreasonably” in assessing the value of the claim. In Crisci v. Security Ins. Co. of New Haven (1967) 66 Cal.2d 425, 431, the California Supreme Court held that the very fact of an excess judgment created an inference that the insurer was liable for the excess judgment. Other cases, however, looked at whether the insurance company properly investigated all facts relating to liability and damages. See, e.g., Betts v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 688, 707.
Continue Reading

Blog-Image---Are-You-CoveredIn what it described as a case of first impression, the Northern District of California ruled that a professional liability policy that excluded the insured’s “assumption of liability obligations in a contract or agreement” did not extend to breach of warranty or false advertising claims arising out of a genetic data testing company’s marketing and sale of a personal genome service. See Ironshore Specialty Ins. Co. v. 23andMe, Inc. (July 22, 2016) N.D. Cal. No. 14-cv-03286-BLF. What is noteworthy about this case is not so much the decision, but the fact that the insurer challenged coverage on this ground. While this issue apparently has never been decided in the context of a professional liability policy, both case law and custom and practice recognize that the same phrase used in a general liability policy applies only to liabilities “assumed,” i.e. created by, a contractual indemnity agreement.
Continue Reading