Developments in drone technology are often heralded as having the potential to change the landscape of business operations, most prominently in the consumer goods shipping sector. Yet, the development of federal regulation and guidance on the commercial use of drones lags behind the pace of innovation. Meanwhile, litigation highlighting the common law tort risks inherent in drone operations has been percolating in jurisdictions around the country. It is no surprise, then, that users of the technology face major uncertainty in terms of their exposure to liabilities, both known and unknown.
The District of New Jersey granted a motion to dismiss a restaurant owner’s purported class action lawsuit seeking business interruption coverage by analyzing: (1) the New Jersey Governor’s Executive Order and (2) the policy language, in a commercial all-risk property damage policy, that excluded coverage for losses covered by viruses.
In N&S Restaurant LLC v. Cumberland Mutual Fire Insurance Company, No. 20-05289 (RBK/KMW), plaintiff filed a claim for loss of business income caused by the New Jersey Governor’s Executive Order which suspended the operation of non-essential retail businesses in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The insurance policy provides coverage for “direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property at the described premises . . . caused by or result[ing] from any Covered Cause of Loss.” Plaintiff requested coverage under three separate policy provisions: (1) the “Business Income” provision; (2) the “Extra Expense” provision; and (3) the “Civil Authority” provision.
The “Business Income” provision provides as follows:
We will pay for the actual loss of Business Income you sustain due to the necessary suspension of your “operations” during the “period of restoration”. The suspension must be caused by direct physical loss of or damage to property at the described premises. The loss or damage must be caused by or result from a Covered Cause of Loss. With respect to loss of or damage to personal property in the open or personal property in a vehicle, the described premises include the area within 100 feet of such premises.
The “Extra Expense” provision provides as follows:
We will pay necessary Extra Expense you incur during the “period of restoration” that you would not have incurred if there had been no direct physical loss or damage to property at the described premises. The loss or damage must be caused by or result from a Covered Cause of Loss.
The “Civil Authority” provision provides as follows:
When a Covered Cause of Loss causes damage to property other than property at the described premises, we will pay for the actual loss of Business Income you sustain and necessary Extra Expense caused by action of civil authority that prohibits access to the described premises
The policy also denies coverage under several enumerated exclusions. Under the Virus Exclusion, Defendant “will not pay for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by” any “Virus or Bacteria,” which is any “virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induces or is capable of inducing physical distress, illness or disease.” The Virus Exclusion includes an anti-concurrent causation preamble, which states that “[s]uch loss or damage is excluded regardless of any other cause or event that contributes concurrently or in any sequence to the loss[.]”
Defendant denied Plaintiff’s request for coverage, citing two primary reasons: (1) the claim was barred by the Virus Exclusion, and (2) the claim did not arise out of physical loss or damage as required by each of the applicable provisions. Defendant asserted that because COVID-19 caused the Executive Order mandating closure of all non-essential businesses, the Virus Exclusion applies.
Plaintiff asserted that the Virus Exclusion does not apply because the “cause of Plaintiff’s loss was the Closure Orders, not the coronavirus.” Plaintiff supports this point by asserting that its claimed loss is not for decontaminating its premises as a result of a coronavirus infestation.
When analyzing Defendant’s motion to dismiss, the District Court focused on the anti-concurrent causation clause of the Virus Exclusion which specifically states that loss caused directly or indirectly by a virus is excluded. The District Court concluded that there is no doubt that COVID-19, a virus, caused New Jersey’s Governor to issue the Executive Order mandating closure of Plaintiff’s restaurant. Therefore, COVID-19 is still a cause of the closure because the Virus Exclusion specifically provides for such indirect causation. The District Court further stated that there is no requirement, as Plaintiff suggests, for the virus to have physically caused the loss, such as via contamination of the property. The District Court analyzed that although costs for decontamination would certainly be a direct loss caused by the virus, this is not the only possible loss that would trigger the Virus Exclusion. The District Court ruled that by its plain language, the Virus Exclusion applies, barring coverage
This District Court case is one of a growing number of rulings which dismiss similar cases. We expect that this body of law will continue to develop.
By Damon Vocke
On July 31, the seven-member Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (JPML) heard oral argument of extraordinary length on the potential consolidation of all federal cases involving business interruption coverage relating to COVID-19 and/or COVID-19 shutdown orders, totaling approximately 449 such federal cases, roughly 200 of which are putative class actions. Continue reading “Panel Rejects Consolidation Of All Federal Business Interruption Cases”
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.
To read the full text of this article, please visit the Law360 website.
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”