Insurance Coverage in the Post-Weinstein Era

With new headlines involving sexual harassment and other inappropriate sexual conduct continuing to emerge on a daily basis, insurance coverage for claims that might emerge is something every company should consider.

Recently, media reports have discussed settlements of shareholder derivative claims against members of the boards of directors and other senior executives of public companies. These settlements illustrate both the type of corporate liability that can ensue from allegations that a company turned a blind eye to, or otherwise failed to prevent, sexual misconduct allegations, causing financial and reputational harm to the organization, and the critical role insurance can play in protecting companies and their executives against such claims.While reports indicate that one or more of the settlements is being funded entirely from insurance proceeds, it is unclear whether the settlement proceeds will be coming from D&O insurance or EPLI insurance, or both. D&O insurance is intended to cover corporate mismanagement claims but typically contains some form of employment practices liability exclusion. EPL insurance is intended to cover employment practices liability claims but may not cover management liability claims arising from allegations of sexual harassment. This creates a potential gap in coverage that could have serious consequences.

D&O and EPLI policies are not standard and contain different wording and exclusions.

WHAT TO DO?

In this environment, it behooves corporate management of every company to understand the scope of insurance coverage for sexual harassment and management liability claims and to ensure that appropriate coverage is in place without coverage gaps.

Here is what policyholders should do: comprehensively review all relevant corporate insurance programs to determine what coverage is in place for sexual harassment claims of any variety, and for claims arising from corporate actions that might be necessary in the wake of an issue or claim, such as claims of wrongful termination and defamation.

Policies to be reviewed should include CGL, EPL, D&O and E&O.

Determine whether coverage gaps exist and if so, consider enhancing coverage to ensure proper protection.

Understand what needs to happen in terms of notice to insurers in the event of a claim or knowledge of circumstances that might lead to assertion of a claim.

And be aware of the potential for coverage before agreeing to any payments or settlements that might preclude or limit coverage.

© 2017 Proskauer Rose LLP.
This post was written by Seth B Schafler of Proskauer Rose LLP.
Learn more at the Insurance Law Page on the National Law Review.

Effects of Insurance Marketplace Uncertainty

Even as Senators continue to consider “Graham-Cassidy,” the latest Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal legislation, insurance markets are already reacting to uncertainty and instability brought about by persistent GOP efforts to upend the post-ACA insurance landscape. Between the Trump Administration’s ongoing refusal to commit to long-term funding of the ACA’s cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) and legislative overtures to repeal key portions of the ACA, premiums have increased, insurers have exited state exchanges, and access to health care coverage has been compromised.

As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated, insurers are expected to “raise premiums for marketplace plans in 2018 by an average of roughly 15 percent, largely because of uncertainty about whether the federal government will continue to fund CSR payments and because of an increase in the percentage of the population living in areas with only one insurer.” Speaking to the latter factor, CBO notes that a number of insurers have withdrawn from healthcare exchanges established under the ACA, spurred, at least in part, by “uncertainty about the enforcement of the individual mandate, and uncertainty about the federal government’s future payments for [CSRs].” Although ACA proponents’ (and critics’) most dire predictions were narrowly avoided – that some counties would have no insurers offering marketplace plans – there is little doubt that insurer participation has been adversely impacted by market uncertainty, with pocketbook repercussions for policy-holders.

The turbulent political climate is also likely to reduce the number of insured individuals in 2018. CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation anticipate lower insurance enrollment as a result of reductions in federal-sponsored advertising and outreach. Department of Health and Human Services officials recently indicated that the advertising budget for the open enrollment period commencing in November would be reduced to $10 million, amounting to a 90% reduction when compared to spending in the last year of the Obama Administration. Grants to “navigators” – nonprofit groups that assist people with marketplace insurance plan enrollment – will be reduced from approximately $63 million to $36 million.

Whether or not the worst is yet to come will hinge on the fate of Graham-Cassidy and the presently-stalled efforts to reach consensus on a bipartisan ACA stabilization bill. In what is turning out to be a recurring theme in 2017, we may have to wait several weeks for the dust to settle and reasoned prognostication to be possible.

This post was written by Matthew J. Goldman & Jordan E. Grushkin of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP., Copyright © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review 

Litigation After Devastation: The Legal Storm Surge

Bridges crumbling in Texas. Houses turned to toothpicks in the USVIs. Newly-formed rivers ravaging the streets in South Florida. The devastating destruction from the recent hurricanes that have pummeled the U.S. has uprooted many peoples’ homes and lives, but we have only begun to feel the impact of the surge.

Massive relief efforts have begun, national fundraising, news coverage, responsive legislation, and building codes to name a few. A litigation surge is swelling as well. We have seen several types of cases and class actions churn from a hurricane’s aftermath. Here are some of the types of cases, coverage issues, and expert needs you may see after the storm.

Property Damage and Meteorological Causation

Insurance companies insuring the Southern United States are bracing for the waves of claims that will soon be flooding in. Just as it was following Hurricanes Katrina, Ivan, and Sandy, the hotly-debated issue of whether the damage was caused by wind or water will be the likely focus. While most homeowner insurance policies will cover water damage that was caused by a roof or window that was compromised by wind and allowed water intrusion, most do not cover water that rises from the ground level and enters the home. Experts will be relied upon to determine how water got into a structure, even when it is entirely obliterated.

Insurance companies and attorneys will be looking for experts in meteorology, often with advanced degrees and testifying experience, who can opine on the types of weather conditions that might have existed at a given time in a given place (i.e., Key West when Hurricane Irma struck). The experts could come from academia or environmental institutes and societies. They will be asked to review various data points and speak on weather conditions at a particular time and place to support causation for insurance coverage. Structural engineers will also be needed, preferably with experience in standard insurance practices, procedures, and protocols in evaluating damage caused by hurricanes. They will need to have an understanding of insurance claims handling and will be asked to review various reports and data, some from other engineers, discussing damage caused to structures by the hurricane and opine as to whether or not the reports and data are accurate.

Structural Failures and Faulty Design/Construction

While many large, concrete commercial buildings and bridges are designed to withstand 150+ mph winds and flooding,  they can still be left severely damaged after a storm blows through. Structural failure of buildings, roofs, bridges, and roadways that were expected to withstand hurricane winds will lead to litigation over damage caused by the failure. Structural engineers with expertise in the types of structures at issue, likely licensed engineers, will be needed to examine damage patterns through photos, video, or via a post-storm on-scene inspection. They will also need to use meteorological wind information to determine the cause of the failure and the quality of the design or construction.

Class Actions for Coverage Determinations

Often, the core issues in insurance-related storm damage cases are similar across a wide span of policyholders. These cases will vary depending on the coverage matter at issue, but the most sought-after experts will be familiar with insurance claims standards, protocols, and policy interpretation. Construction experts may also be needed to opine on the necessity and extent of certain repairs required after a storm. Also, standard practices and interactions between contractors and insurance companies during the re-build process will come into question. Class actions may be filed as well, simply as placeholders to toll certain claims-filing deadlines or allow broader bad faith discovery against insurance companies who refuse to pay mass claims.

Litigation Over Price-Gouging

One of the worst scenarios to follow a storm is wide-scale price-gouging and scamming by companies trying to capitalize on the desperation and vulnerability of storm victims. Before the storm, many people preparing for power outages or evacuation will see unfair spikes in essentials such as water and gas. After the storm, shady contractors and tree-removers often flood in, lie about their licensing and credentials, and charge exorbitant fees while performing shoddy, haphazard work, or no work at all. Many states, including Florida, have made it a crime for any service provider to offer or sell essential commodities for an amount that “grossly exceeds the average price” during the thirty days following a declaration of emergency. In the days before Hurricane Irma’s approach, many reported price-gouging for essentials such as water, ice, batteries, and gas when thousands of Floridians were stocking up or evacuating. Class actions alleging price-gouging will likely occur following the storm. Experts in standard industry pricing, manufacture costs, and storm clean-up and repair may be called in to opine on the “average price” of certain essential commodities and post-storm services.

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are gearing up for the incumbent waves of litigation and expert requests we anticipate will follow. What types of cases, class actions, and expert needs are you expecting?

This post was written by Annie Dike of IMS ExpertServices, All Rights Reserved. © Copyright 2002-2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Hurricanes and Act of God Defenses

Maritime contracts for services generally include clauses for performance, demurrage, deviation, termination, and suspension. Performance may be affected by an Act of God or Force Majeure clause and event. A typical Force Majeure clause reads as follows:

Except for the duty to make payments hereunder when due, and the indemnification provisions under this Agreement, neither Company nor Contractor shall be responsible to the other for any delay, damage or failure caused by or occasioned by a Force Majeure Event as used in this Agreement. “Force Majeure Event” includes: acts of God, action of the elements, warlike action, insurrection, revolution or civil strife, piracy, civil war or hostile action, strikes, differences with workers, acts of public enemies, federal or state laws, rules and regulations of any governmental authorities having jurisdiction in the premises or of any other group, organization or informal association (whether or not formally recognized as a government); inability to procure material, equipment or necessary labor in the open market acute and unusual labor or material or equipment shortages, or any other causes (except financial) beyond the control of either Party. Delays due to the above causes, or any of them, shall not be deemed to be a breach of or failure to perform under this Agreement.

A. Act of God

Act of God or Force Majeure is a defense to many contractual obligations, including performance, deviation, and demurrage. It may also be the basis to suspend or terminate a maritime agreement for cause. It is defined as an abnormal natural event that is overwhelming and cannot be forestalled nor controlled. Skandia Ins. Co., Ltd. V. Star Shipping, AS, 173 F.Supp. 2d 1228 (S.D. Ala. 2001) (Hurricane Georges cargo claim). It is also a defense to certain tort claims like collisions and allisions occurring during a storm. Petition of U.S., Heide Shipping & Trading v. S.S. Joseph Lykes, 425 F.2d 991 (5th Cir. 1970) (vessel break-away in Hurricane Betsy).

When plead, a party must demonstrate that it was prudent in predicting and attempting to avoid the impact of the overwhelming and unexpected natural event and took reasonable precautions under the circumstances. A failure to perform or third party tort damages are not subject to an Act of God defense if the failure results from human agency, neglect or an unseaworthy condition. Compania DeVapores Ins. Co., SA v. Mo-Pac R.R. Co., 232 F.2d 657 (5th Cir. 1985) (cargo claim for failure to take reasonable steps to guard against wind storm).

Following Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana held that a category 4 or 5 hurricane was an Act of God sufficient to bar a tort claim by a marina owner against the owner of a vessel that broke away from her berth, drifted and hit another vessel. The defense of Act of God applied because, 1) the accident was due exclusively to abnormal natural events without human interest, and (2) there was no intervening negligent behavior by the vessel owner. J.W. Stone Oil Dist., LLC v. Bollinger Shipyard, 2007 WL 2710809 (E.D. La. 2007). Judge Lemmon held in Stone Oil that hurricanes are considered as a matter of law to be an Act of God and defensible unless there is an intervening and contributing act of individual negligence. This obligation includes taking reasonable precautions based upon all available information.

In Simmons v. Lexington Ins. Co., 2010 WL 1254638 (E.D. La. 2010), aff’d., 401 Fed. Appx. 903 (5th Cir. 2010), J),  the courts similarly considered whether reasonable precautions had been taken by a marina to protect a sailboat during Hurricane Katrina under both Louisiana and maritime law. The Court reviewed other Katrina cases, including Conagra Trade Group, Inc. v. AEP Memco, LLC, 2009 WL 2023174 (E.D. La. 2009), and Coex Coffee Int’l., Inc. v. Dupuy Storage & Forwarding, LLC, 2008 WL 1884041 (E.D. La. 2008). (Katrina’s unprecedented flooding and devastation was an Act of God defense.) In Conagra, supra, Judge Fallon was asked to review a contract of affreightment for a cargo of wheat aboard a barge that sunk. Memco was found not negligent in delivering its barge of cargo to an affected berth several days before the weather forecast accurately predicted the landfall of Katrina.

In re S.S. Winged Arrow, 425 F.2d 991 (5th Cir. 1970), affirmed that where a vessel had been sufficiently moored based upon the anticipated path of Hurricane Betsy, the Act of God defense applied to relieve its owner of  tort damages resulting from its breakaway. From a review of the case law involving severe weather events, it is apparent that Act of God defenses will be granted as a defense to both third party tort claims and also contractual claims for failure to perform where reasonable decisions and precautionsunder the circumstances have been made.

B. Performance Clauses

Clauses for demurrage, detention or laytime usually involve delays in the loading or unloading of cargo or the delivery of goods and materials. Laytime is the period of time allowed for loading and unloading. Demurrage and detention are sums paid to compensate for time lost related to the delivery of equipment or cargo. Demurrage begins to run after the passage of laytime or the agreed time of delivery and performance. Damages are awarded for failure to perform. Deviation is an obligation to maintain a proper course in ordinary trade and to timely arrive at the agreed destination. All deviation clauses are subject to certain liberties. Any deviation may affect insurance and hire.

Typically a contract for maritime services can be terminated for cause or for convenience. Similarly, parties may negotiate terms to suspend performance, which would suspend payment of hire and performance of services. A suspension clause is typically an off-hire clause where the contract terms remain but no hire is paid. Usually a vessel owner will be compensated and reimbursed for certain additional expenses if a contract is terminated for convenience. An Act of God clause excuses delays in performance, but in most cases serves to either suspend performance or terminate the contract for cause as between the parties.

Similar defenses are also statutorily allowed under COGSA. Under the COGSA “perils of the sea” defense, a carrier and vessel are not liable for cargo damage proximately caused by an Act of God where the carrier is not independently negligent and its vessel seaworthy when confronted with an unexpected and abnormal event of nature. 46 USC 1304(2) (c) & (d) ; J.Gerber & Co. v S/S SABINE HOWALDT 437 F.2d. 580 (2nd Cir. 1971); Taisho Marine & Fire Ins. Co. v. Sea-Land ENDURANCE 815 F. 2d. (9th Cir. 1270).

C. Conclusion

The purpose of an Act of God clause in a contract or asserted as a defense to a maritime tort is to relieve a defendant from liability for performance and damages where there was an extreme natural event. Whether a particular storm or natural event is considered an ACT OF GOD is a question of fact. The factors to be considered in accessing an ACT OF GOD/FORCE MAJEURE include the intensity of the natural event and whether the conditions would normally be expected. In order to avail oneself of the ACT OF GOD defense a defendant must show a causal connection between the loss and the peril as well as defendant’s freedom from fault.

This post was written by Grady S. Hurley of Jones Walker LLP © 2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Contingent Business Interruption Coverage: Insuring the Far-Reaching Effects of Tropical Storm Harvey

Manufacturers and producers are keenly aware of the value provided by business interruption coverage. Typically, this coverage is sold to companies as one of several coverages under their commercial property insurance package. Business interruption coverage is generally triggered by physical damage to a company asset (e.g., a manufacturing plant), which causes a suspension of business activities resulting in a loss of business income.

Tropical Storm Harvey has forced manufacturers and producers across Southeastern Texas to shut down operations while repairing their damaged facilities. These companies will turn to their business interruption carriers to recoup their business income lost during this period. However, for companies doing business in that region, but physically located outside the reach of Harvey, business interruption coverage may not protect them from lost profits caused by the storm.

For example, say a company owns a manufacturing facility in California where it assembles cars. The manufacturer purchases its engines from a company located in the flood-ravaged portions of Texas. If the Texas company is unable to build and deliver engines to California, the manufacturer might be unable to assemble cars for days, possibly weeks. Any business income losses incurred by the California company are unlikely to trigger standard business interruption coverage because the California manufacturing facility did not suffer any physical damage. To fill the gap, manufacturers and producers often purchase contingent business interruption coverage (CBI).

CBI coverage is, in effect, an extension of business interruption coverage to the business activities of suppliers and customers. If an upstream supplier or downstream customer suffers an interruption in business activities, CBI coverage should kick in to reimburse the policyholder for certain lost profits. CBI coverage can be written on specific properties owned by suppliers or customers and/or on a blanket basis.

The value of CBI coverage may vary depending on the precise language of the coverage grant.

Compare Millennium Inorganic Chems. Ltd. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 744 F.3d 279, 285-86 (4th Cir. 2014) (CBI coverage was expressly limited to “direct contributing properties” therefore, the presence of an intermediary between policyholder and supplier precluded coverage) to Archer-Daniels-Midland v. Phoneix Assur. Co., 936 F. Supp. 534, 544 (S.D. Ill. 1996) (CBI coverage was not limited to “direct suppliers,” therefore, CBI coverage was appropriate despite an intermediary in the supply chain).

There are a myriad of issues that arise when a company tenders a claim for CBI coverage, all of which need to be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. For manufacturers and producers that rely on companies in Southeastern Texas, CBI coverage may become vital.

This post was written by Joshua B. Rosenberg of BARNES & THORNBURG LLP© 2017

Important New Law in UK Relating to Payment of Insurance Claims

insuranceAt the moment, English law says that insurers and reinsurers are not under a positive duty to pay valid claims within a reasonable time.  If an insurer/reinsurer delays in paying a claim, or fails to pay at all, an insured/reinsured can only claim the sums due under the policy and interest.  An insured/reinsured cannot claim damages for late payment if it suffers additional losses by reason of a delay.

That position will change after 4 May 2017 when certain parts of the Enterprise Act 2016 introduce a new section 13A into the Insurance Act 2015.

The result of the new legislation is that any insurance/reinsurance (including retrocession) policy issued or renewed after 4 May 2017, and which is subject to English law, will contain an implied term that requires an insurer/reinsurer to pay claims within a reasonable period.  If they act in breach of such a term, then they are potentially liable to pay contractual damages to the insured/reinsured as well as due under the policy and interest.

Going forward there is likely to be debate about what constitutes “reasonable time,” but it will include giving time to an insurers/reinsurer to investigate and assess the claim. And what is “reasonable” will turn on issues such as the type of insurance in question, the size and complexity of the claim, compliance with relevant statutory and regulatory rules/guidance and factors outside an insurer/reinsurer’s control.

The new legislation also provides a defence to an insurers/reinsurer and they will not be in breach of the implied term if they can prove that they have reasonable grounds for not paying the claim. The manner in which the claim is handled will therefore be a factor in determining whether there has been a breach of the implied term.

An insured/reinsured must issue the court claim for damages within one year of the date that the insurer/reinsurer pays all sums due under the insurance contract. This introduces a new limitation period for legal claims under English law.

Insurers and reinsurers should note that it will be possible to contract out of the new provisions provided they do so in a transparent manner and draws this to the insured’s attention before the policy is entered into.

Comment

Whilst on the face of it this is all good news for insureds, insurers can take comfort from the fact that claims for breach of the implied term will not be straightforward and may not therefore be widespread.  In particular, insureds/reinsureds will still have to satisfy the Court on issues such as causation, remoteness and mitigation before a claim can succeed.  And insurers/reinsurers will only be liable for foreseeable losses suffered by their insureds/reinsureds.

Going forward, practical steps to be taken by insurers include responding promptly to an insured’s request for claims’ information, continuing to carefully document the claims process and to consider making interim payments to an insured if appropriate. These will significantly improve the chances of an insurer/reinsurer successfully defending any legal actions taken by insureds/reinsured alleging a failure to pay a claim within a reasonable time and claiming damages.

© Copyright 2017 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

Hurricane Matthew Insurance Tips for Businesses

Hurricane map, Hurricane MatthewWith Hurricane Matthew downgraded to a tropical cyclone, it is time for affected businesses, property owners, and insurers to focus on quantifying the amount of damage caused by the storm.  By some estimates, Hurricane Matthew will generation over 100,000 insurance claims and between $4 billion and $7.5 billion in property losses.  Although the focus is typically on pre-storm preparation, the immediate steps taken this week will be important to any business owner seeking to present an adequate claim to its insurer for property damage.

Safety is always the first priority. Do not put yourself, your employees, or first responders in danger. Currently in North Carolina, the predictions are for worsening flooding in many low lying parts of the eastern part of the state, with peak flooding not reaching some areas until Wednesday (four days after the storm passed).

Once the threat of imminent danger has receded, the next step should be to document your loss.  Thorough documentation of the damage to your property will be invaluable.  Hopefully you will also have photographs or video from before the storm, so that any claim presented to an insurer can show both the before and after photographs of the condition of the property.  Because cell phones and digital cameras are not limited by physical film, do not hesitate to shoot dozens or hundreds of photographs.  Videos may be helpful as well.

At the same time you are documenting the damage, you should immediately put your insurer on notice of the loss.  You should call your insurer to begin putting them on notice as soon as you arrive at the property if you assess any physical loss.  After you give initial notice, you can follow up with complete details, provide the photographs you have taken, etc.  The insurer will likely eventually send an adjuster to physical inspect the damage to the property.

It is important to quickly give notice for several reasons.  As a legal matter, giving prompt notice prevents having a claim denied by an insurer on the basis of a late notice defense.  As a practical matter, because of the large number of claims that will be filed within a short period of time, some insurers will likely handle the claims on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Getting your claim in quickly gets you closer to the front of the line.

If immediate repairs are needed, take plenty of additional photos of the damage, the repairs in progress, and the final repairs.  Maintain copies of documentation regarding the repairs, and provide those to your insurer.  If your business had to buy or rent additional equipment as a result of the damage, or you suffered inventory loss, you will want to maintain detailed documentation of these costs as well.

Finally, whichever employee you assign to provide information to the insurer should maintain a journal or notebook.  This should include copies of all documents submitted to the insurance company, along with a log of all conversations with the insurer or its representatives.  The log should include the contact information of anyone from the insurer that you have contacted with, the date and time, the topics you discussed, and any additional information which you believe may be useful in the future or in the event of a dispute.

Copyright © 2016 Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. All Rights Reserved.