By Damon Vocke
On July 30, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (the Panel) heard oral argument of extraordinary length on the potential consolidation of all the federal cases involving business interruption coverage relating to COVID-19 and/or the COVID-19 shut-down orders. There are some 449 such federal cases, approximately 200 of which are putative class actions.
Normally, the arguments for consolidation are short. This one was not. This was likely due to the importance of the pandemic-related litigation, as well as the multiplicity of positions.
Several policyholder plaintiffs argued for national consolidation. Insurer-specific consolidation was the most common fall-back position among the policyholder plaintiffs. Several policyholder plaintiffs argued against any consolidation – most notably, David Boies. Counsel for some of the insurer defendants argued on behalf of the industry against any consolidation. Continue reading Lengthy Oral Argument on Potential Consolidation of Business Interruption Coverage Cases Related to COVID-19
Berkshire Hathaway and one of its units on Monday urged a Pennsylvania federal court to toss a restaurant’s suit seeking insurance coverage for losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that a virus exclusion “plainly applies” to the restaurant’s claims.
Berkshire Hathaway and National Fire are represented by Robert L. Byer, Julie S. Greenberg and Damon N. Vocke of Duane Morris LLP.
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By Damon Vocke and David T. McTaggart
To date, approximately 150 business-interruption insurance coverage lawsuits have been filed in federal courts arising from COVID-19 and related government-ordered restrictions. In what appears to be the first substantive ruling on the merits in these cases, the Southern District of New York recently ruled against an insured who could not meet its burden to show a likelihood of success in establishing “property damage” due to the novel coronavirus to support its claim for injunctive relief. See Social Life Magazine, Inc. v. Sentinel Ins. Co., 1:20-cv-03311-VEC (Dkt. 24-1, S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2020). Judge Caproni expressed sympathy “for every small business that is having difficulties during this period of time,” but concluded that “New York law is clear” in requiring actual property damage to trigger business interruption coverage. Because the insured’s coverage theory rested on a government shutdown in the absence of any property damage, the Court denied its preliminary injunction motion, reasoning “this is just not what’s covered under these insurance policies.”
Continue reading Business Interruption Insurance, COVID-19 and Direct Physical Damage under New York Law
by: Gina Foran
This week, U.S. Specialty Insurance Company (“USSIC”) filed a declaratory relief action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas seeking a judicial declaration that its insured, Gartner Group, Inc. (“Gartner”), is not entitled to coverage in excess of the Event Cancellation Insurance policy’s aggregate limit of $150 million for COVID-19-related losses.
USSIC issued an event cancellation policy to Gartner, a global research and advisory company that holds several events and conferences each year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gartner cancelled or postponed a majority of its events scheduled for 2020. In the complaint, USSIC states that it accepted Gartner’s submitted claims and that these claims will potentially exhaust the policy’s aggregate limit of indemnity of $150 million.
Gartner allegedly takes the position that it has a right to coverage in excess of the aggregate limit of $150 million based on a reinstatement of limits provision of the policy that allows the insured to request reinstatement of “that part of the Limit of Indemnity shown in the Schedule utilized by way of any potential or actual loss payment under this insurance.” USSIC states that the reinstatement of limits provision has no impact on the aggregate limit of indemnity, which it states is capped at $150 million. Instead, USSIC states, the reinstatement of limits provision only authorizes Gartner to reinstate that part of the original limit of indemnity of an event/conference listed in the schedule of events that is eroded by payment of actual or potential loss.
USSIC additionally states that Gartner is not entitled to an increase of indemnity limits for COVID-19-related losses under the fortuity doctrine and known loss rule, as well as a prior known loss exclusion in the policy, all of which deal with whether insurance is available to an insured for known losses. USSIC states that because coverage under the requested reinstatement has not incepted, it should not be available because Gartner is aware of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Damon N. Vocke
In the bellwether case of Joseph Tambellini, Inc. v. Erie Insurance Exchange, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was petitioned under its King’s Bench powers to assume plenary jurisdiction of an insurance coverage dispute that had been filed in the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The high court was asked to decide critical legal issues that would have impacted thousands of other insurance claims that might arise in the future from the COVID-19 pandemic. Duane Morris was retained by insurer trade associations, including APCIA, NAMIC, PAMIC, and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania (the “Insurance Industry Amici”), to oppose this extraordinary petition. Continue reading Duane Morris Helps Insurance Industry to a Major Win on COVID Losses for Business Interruption Before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
By Dominica C. Anderson, Philip R. Matthews and Daniel B. Heidtke
We previously wrote about the growing number of lawsuits by insureds seeking business interruption insurance coverage for business losses in response to the novel coronavirus (here and here), and the constraints that state and federal governments should face were they to compel such coverage. We also previously detailed nationwide efforts aimed at enacting legislation compelling business interruption and contingent business interruption insurance for COVID-19 losses.
As of the date of this update, eight states have proposed a number of bills relating to business interruption insurance. Continue reading An Update on Congressional Efforts to Compel Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance
By Lawrence E. Currier
In a split 2-1 decision in Selective Way Insurance Company v. MAK Services., Inc., et al. al., 2020 PA Super 103 (Case Number 1289 EDA 2019), issued April 24, 2020, the Pennsylvania Superior Court (the “court”) held that a reservation of rights letter from an insurer reserving its right to deny coverage after it begins to defend a claim on behalf of a policyholder must include at least some detail about potential exclusions that could apply. The court reversed an order of the trial court granting summary judgment to Selective Way, the insurer (“Selective”). Continue reading Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules That Insurer Waived Coverage Defense by Not Including It in the Reservation of Rights Letter
By Dominica C. Anderson, Philip R. Matthews and Daniel B. Heidtke
As the coronavirus cases start peaking in at least some parts of the United States, the American courts are beginning to experience mounting cases relating to claims against businesses for coronavirus infections and against insurers for alleged business interruption coverage. A few weeks ago, some well-known restaurants in the United States commenced litigation against their insurers over claims for insurance coverage stemming from business interruption. These individual cases will raise a number of issues whether there is direct physical loss to covered property and whether the virus exclusions in the policies bar coverage. As a host of other types of businesses have followed by filing a number of individual suits in several states against their insurers. Last week, however, a new form of litigation has been filed with multiple class action insurance coverage lawsuits being brought by alleged representatives against single insures who are claimed to have written business interruption policies to a number of businesses in given areas or nationwide. Continue reading Coronavirus Business Interruption Litigation Ramping up to Include Several Class Action Suits Against Single Insurers
As we wrote earlier this week, legislators continue their efforts to address the enormous cost of business continuity losses. Most recently, Representative Mike Thompson of California, introduced H.R.6494, labeled the “Business Interruption Insurance Coverage Act of 2020”. Continue reading Congress Proposes Bill for Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance Coverage
By Dominica Anderson, Philip Matthews and Daniel Heidtke
We previously wrote about the growing number of lawsuits by insureds seeking business interruption insurance coverage for business losses in response to the novel coronavirus and ways that state and federal governments were beginning to consider ways that they might compel such coverage.
The potential cost of business continuity losses is enormous. The Congressional Research Service issued a report to Congress on the financial impact to insurers for the cost of covering business interruption claims. The report explains that some industry sources estimate that the cost of covering business interruption claims ranges from $110 billion to $290 billion per month. In a more recent letter, insurance industry leaders explained, “recent estimates show that business continuity losses just for small businesses of 100 or fewer employees could amount to between $220 billion to $383 billion per month. Meanwhile, the total surplus for all of the U.S. home, auto, and business insurers combined to pay all future losses is only $800 billion.” Continue reading Lawmakers Continue Efforts to Compel Coronavirus Business Interruption Insurance