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.
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In an unpublished decision, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Central District of California’s interpretation of the related acts provision in a professional liability policy,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.
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Blog-Image---Are-You-CoveredA recent case in the Northern District of California offers two cautionary tales to policyholders. First, when buying insurance, companies should understand their risks and ensure that the policies they’re buying match those risks as closely as possible. Second, when a claim arises, policyholders must carefully consider all the allegations, not just the formal causes of action, in the complaint to determine whether they might trigger an insurer’s defense obligation.
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Blog-Image---attorney-clientAttorney invoices may be protected in their entirety by the attorney-client privilege during ongoing litigation. After litigation has concluded, however, those same invoices may be discoverable. So concludes the California Supreme Court in a fascinating ending to a case we have been following since last June of last year, County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (opinion). In a 4-3 decision that mirrored the split we observed in oral argument, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal.
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Blog-Image---attorney-clientOn October 6, the California Supreme Court heard oral argument in Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court, a case that we have blogged about twice in the past because of its possible impact on policyholders (see posts Submitting Your Defense Bills to Insurers Could Mean Waiving Privilege and California Supreme Court Will Review Appellate Decision Holding That Attorney Bills Are Privileged). On appeal, the Court will decide whether to affirm the California Court of Appeal’s decision that legal invoices sent to the County of Los Angeles by outside counsel are within the scope of attorney-client privilege and thus exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. As this issue could have a major impact on policyholders’ ability to share defense bills with insurers, we attended the oral argument.
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