Have you ever wondered whether the liability policy you purchased covers losses you already knew about before you bought the policy? How much do you have to know? What if you knew about certain property damage at a construction project you caused but not about other related damage your policy would otherwise cover? A recent case from the Ninth Circuit sheds light on these issues, and it is good news for policyholders.
Under most long-term disability insurance plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), a claimant must appeal the denial of any claim for benefits within 180 days of the denial letter. Unless the appeal is made within that strict 180-day period, the claimant may forfeit the right to any short-term disability benefits or long-term disability benefits available under the plan. At least, that was the law until a recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit cracked open the window for a timely appeal.
We do not normally focus on dissents in our blogging but we made an exception here with a published Per Curiam opinion from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Guam Industrial Services, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Co., 2015 DJDAR 5948 (9th Cir. June 1, 2015). This insurance coverage case arose out of the sinking of a dry dock, loaded with barrels of oil, during a typhoon on Guam. The issues pertain to whether either of two insurance policies covered costs of damage to the dock and the associated cleanup which was accomplished before any of the oil leaked out of the containers into the Pacific Ocean. Guam Industrial Services, Inc. (“Guam Industrial”) owned the dry dock. At the time of the sinking, one of its insurance policies, an Ocean Marine Policy, covered liability for property damage caused by pollutants, issued by Zurich American Insurance Company (“Zurich”). After the dock sank, Guam Industrial filed a claim under each policy. Zurich denied the claim, and Guam Industrial brought suit. The district court granted summary judgment for the insurers, finding that the first policy was voidable because Guam Industrial had failed to maintain the warranty on the dock, and that the coverage under the second policy was never triggered because no pollutants were released. Guam Industrial appealed the decision and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
In actions brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), two roads diverge in federal court—and the court’s choice regarding the applicable standard of review can make all the difference in the scope of permissible evidence. If the court applies the abuse of discretion standard of review, the court more typically (but not always) only considers evidence received by the insurer in time for its decision and limits its review to the “administrative record” to determine whether the insurer’s denial was an abuse of discretion. Alternatively, the court may review a case “de novo,” and may consider documents not previously provided to the insurer to determine whether the insured is entitled to benefits.
Do you have a disability insurance policy, health insurance policy or life insurance policy through your work? If you do, you should read this article as you may miss some important deadlines if you do not.
The Supreme Court’s recent holding that the limitations periods in employer-sponsored plans are enforceable, even where such limitations periods began to run before a cause of action accrued, had a rippling effect through federal courts, the insurance bar and participants alike. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), participants must exhaust the plans’ administrative process before bringing suit. Previously, the Ninth Circuit and majority of circuit court of appeals had held that the statute of limitations for filing suit under ERISA commenced after an insured exhausted all administrative remedies. However, the high court explained that a plan may impose a particular limitations period, which begins from the date proof of claim is due, rather than after the conclusion of the administrative process. Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co. et. al., 134 S. Ct. 604 (2013). Below, we examine the implications Heimeshoff has for insureds and provide helpful tips.
The Reasonable Expectations of the Covered Party, Even an Additional Insured, Determines the Interpretation of Ambiguous Policy LanguageJanuary 27, 2014 Robert McKennon
In California, courts have long held that where a policy provision is ambiguous because it is susceptible to multiple interpretations, the reasonable expectation of the covered party governs. But which parties’ objectively reasonable expectations should govern where there are both a named insured and an additional named insured claiming coverage? In its significant decision in Transport Insurance Company v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, __ Cal. App. 4th __, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 28 (Jan. 13, 2014), the Court of Appeal of California held that it is the objectively reasonable expectation of each party seeking coverage that is applied in determining the meaning of language within an insurance contract as it applies to that party, even where it is an additional insured who is not a party to the contact.
In a highly anticipated decision, a unanimous United States Supreme Court held that insureds with employer-sponsored plans are contractually bound by the limitations periods set forth in their plan documents. These limitations periods, which specify when insureds must file any legal actions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), are enforceable so long as they are not unreasonably short. The Court held in Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co. and Wal-mart Stores, Inc., __ U.S. __ , 2013 U.S. LEXIS 9026 (Dec. 16, 2013), that the Plan’s contractual limitations period governs when a participant/beneficiary may file a legal action. The Court concluded that the Plan’s contractual statute of limitations period was enforceable and that the time spent in the administrative claims process did not toll the running of the statute.
Insurers providing general liability insurance cannot shirk their duty to defend insureds at the outset of litigation by relying on self-insured retention (SIR) provisions in those policies unless the policies expressly and unambiguously make the insurer’s duty to defend contingent upon the SIR. So held the Fourth District Court of Appeals in American Safety Indemnity Company v. Admiral Insurance Company, __ Cal. App. 4th ___, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 779 (2013). The court’s decision in American Safety is highly favorable to insureds because it substantially limits the ability of insurers to circumvent their obligation to pay first-dollar for the defense of their insured by arguing that the SIR has not been exhausted.
Commercial property owners may recover lost rental income from their insurer if they are unable to rent out damaged property, absent clear policy exclusions. The California Court of Appeal recently held the owner of commercial property has a reasonable expectation of coverage for loss of rent, even if the property was not leased out at the time the damage occurred. Ventura Kester, LLC v. Folksamerica Reinsurance Company, 2013 DJDAR 12253 (September 11, 2013). The court explained that if insurers want to limit loss of rent coverage to leases in force at the time of the damages occur, such limitations must be plainly stated in the policy. Ventura is significant because it limits insurers’ abilities to take advantage of ambiguous policy language as a means to deny coverage.
In a recent ruling, the California Court of Appeal held that an insurer’s general reservation of rights to deny coverage of damages outside its policy does not create a conflict of interest with the insured, such that the insured in entitled to Cumis counsel. The decision in Federal Insurance Co. v. MBL, Inc. __ Cal. App. 4th __, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 679, 2013 WL 4506149 (August 26, 2013) follows California precedent denying insureds the right to select independent counsel at the insurer’s expense absent an actual conflict of interest.