Insurance Coverage Blog

Commentary on Insurance Coverage Litigation in New York
Posted: July 31, 2019

“Knowing Acts” Exclusion Did Not Excuse Duty to Defend Where Insured’s Liability Could Be Established Without a Finding of Intentional Wrongdoing

On May 29, 2019, Justice Crane of the New York County Supreme Court issued a decision in Continental Cas. Co. v KB Ins. Co., Ltd., 2019 NY Slip Op 31513(U), holding that an exclusion for “Knowing Acts” did not excuse a CGL carrier’s duty to defend Lanham Act claims against the insured. 

In the underlying litigation, the insured, Value Wholesale, Inc. (Value), was sued by the patent holder for FreeStyle blood glucose test strips for allegedly selling imported test strips not authorized for sale in the United States and selling them in FreeStyle product boxes.  The action asserted claims for “trademark and trade dress infringement, fraud, racketeering, unfair competition, and other illegal and wrongful acts.”  One of Value’s CGL carriers (Continental) agreed to defend the case under the coverage for “personal and advertising injury.”  Continental then commenced a coverage action seeking contribution from another CGL carrier (KBIC), which had disclaimed defense coverage under an exclusion that applies if Value acted “with knowledge that the act would violate the rights of another,” or published material “with knowledge of its falsity.” 

Justice Crane held that the exclusion did not excuse KBIC’s duty to defend, explaining:   

KBIC has not satisfied its heavy burden. The underlying complaint alleges that all the defendants participated in a deliberate scheme to substitute unapproved test strips in place of the approved strips. However, Abbott can establish Value’s liability even without a finding that Value knew that its conduct would violate Abbott’s rights and inflict the advertising injury at issue. . . .

Neither the parties nor the court has found a controlling First Department case with parallel facts. However, the Fourth Department has addressed the issue. In Cosser v One Beacon Ins. Group (15 AD3d 871, 873 [4th Dept 2005]), the plaintiffs sought a declaration that the defendant insurer owed them a defense in a Lanham Act action. The Court concluded that a duty existed because the plaintiffs “may be liable … in the underlying action without a showing of intentional or knowing conduct on [their] part”.  A few decisions from justices in this county have utilized similar reasoning to rule that the insurer had a duty to defend (see, e.g., The Andy Warhol Found. For Visual Arts, Inc. v Phi/a. Indem. Ins. Co., 37 Misc 3d 1229 [A], 2012 NY Slip Op 52228 [U], *6 [Sup Ct, NY County 2012] [Sherwood, J.]; Sarin v CAN Fin. Corp., 21 Misc 3d 1101 [A], 2008 NY Slip Op 51909 [U] [Sup Ct, NY County 2008] [Fried, J.]).  The duty to defend exists whenever the complaint alleges any facts or grounds which bring the action within the protection purchased.

(Some citations omitted). 

This decision illustrates both the breadth of the duty to defend and the narrow construction courts apply to policy exclusions.

Posted: May 7, 2019

“Insured versus Insured” Exclusion Did Not Preclude Coverage for Claims By Creditor Trust In Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

On April 25, 2019, Justice Sherwood of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in Westchester Fire Ins. Co. v. Schorsch, 2019 NY Slip Op 31188(U), holding that a D&O policy’s “insured versus insured” exclusion did not preclude coverage for claims against corporate officers by a Creditor Trust.

In Schorsch, corporate officers sought coverage under the corporation’s D&O policies for claims brought against them by a Creditor Trust set up in the corporation’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.  Two of the excess insurers disclaimed coverage based on an “insured versus insured” exclusion that precludes coverage for losses in connection with any claim brought “by, on behalf of, or at the direction of the Company or Insured Person.”  Justice Sherwood disagreed, and granted summary judgment to the insureds, explaining:

. . . [T]he insured versus insured exclusion . . . is intended to prevent a company from recovering business losses that it was in a position to avoid by more carefully supervising its own officers and directors.  The exclusion has exceptions for a bankruptcy trustee or a similar authority, since the funds recovered will be used for the benefit of creditors, rather than the company, and are subject to supervision by the bankruptcy court or a regulatory authority. Plaintiff has asserted that the Creditor Trust is not a bankruptcy trustee, examiner, receiver, liquidator or a creditor committee. However, the Primary Policy uses the phrase “comparable authority” which phrase is not defined.  The phrase is ambiguous and therefore must be construed against the insurer, particularly since it is being invoked to exclude coverage.  Plaintiff and RSUI have not shown that the exclusion prevents defense and coverage under their respective policies.

(Citations omitted).

This decision underscores the well-established principle that coverage exclusions are narrowly construed, with any ambiguities resolved in favor of coverage.  Also of note: because the insurers initiated this coverage action (and lost), the insureds were entitled to fee shifting under the Court of Appeals’ decision in Mighty Midgets, Inc. v. Centennial Ins. Co., 47 N.Y.2d 12, 21 (1979).

Posted: April 30, 2019

Presentation on D&O Insurance Coverage for City Bar White Collar Crime Committee

Posted by Bradley Nash, Litigation Partner

This evening at 6, I will be making a presentation to the White Collar Crime Committee of the New York City Bar on D&O Coverage for White Collar Defense Attorneys.  I will be discussing insurance coverage issues in the Platinum Partners hedge fund case, which is now on trial in the Eastern District of New York.   As previously reported on this blog (see posts here, here, and here), I represented one of the insureds in coverage litigation with three excess D&O insurers, and successfully briefed and argued, on behalf of all the insureds, a motion for a preliminary injunction directing the insurers to advance $15 million in defense costs.

Posted: April 8, 2019

Property Insurance Policy’s Appraisal Procedure Cannot Be Used to Resolve Legal Question Regarding Interpretation of the Policy

On April 3, 2019, the Second Circuit issued a decision in Milligan v. CCC Information Servs. Inc., Dkt. Nos. 18-1405-cv, 18-1407-cv, holding that the appraisal procedure in a property insurance policy could not be used to resolve legal questions regarding the interpretation of the policy, but only to determine the amount of the covered loss.

Milligan is a putative class action, alleging that GEICO “violated Regulation 64, a New York State insurance regulation,” incorporated into the Policy, “which requires an insurer, in the case of a total loss of a current model year vehicle, to reimburse the owner for the reasonable purchase price less any applicable deductible and depreciation allowances.”  GEICO argued that its valuation methodology complied with Regulation 64, and it moved to compel an appraisal of the dispute.  Property insurance policies frequently allow for “appraisal” of a dispute over the value of the loss – a form of ADR that is similar in some respects to arbitration.  The appraisal provision at issue here allowed either party to demand “appraisal” of the amount of the loss.  In the event of such a demand, the insurer and the insured would each pick a “competent appraiser” each of whom would separately determine the amount of the loss.  The appraisers, in turn, would select an “umpire” to resolve the loss valuation if they could not agree.

The district court dismissed GEICO’s motion to compel an appraisal on various grounds, and “suggested that appraisal was inappropriate in this case because the appraisal sought would effectively constitute an opinion on the extent and nature of the coverage provided under the Policy, and under New York law an appraiser may not resolve legal questions regarding interpretation of the Policy.”  The Second Circuit affirmed, explaining:

In Amerex Grp., Inc. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 678 F.3d 193, 204–05 (2d Cir. 2012), we explained that an appraiser may not resolve coverage disputes raising legal questions about the interpretation of an insurance policy. That principle has been applied in several cases decided under New York law. In Kawa v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 174 Misc.2d 407 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1997), for example, the insured residence was damaged in a windstorm. Id. at 407. The defendant insurer contended that the relevant policy required that it indemnify the insured only in a manner that would return the residence to its pre-windstorm condition.  The insured claimed that the relevant policy required replacement of the entire damaged aluminum siding with new vinyl siding. Id. The court deemed this a dispute over the proper interpretation of the policy’s coverage, which could be resolved only by the court’s legal analysis.

Similarly, in Duane Reade, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 279 F. Supp. 2d 235, 241–42 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), aff’d 411 F.3d 384 (2d Cir. 2005), the district court reserved for itself how to interpret the term “Restoration Period” under a policy indemnifying Duane Reade for certain business income losses following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Duane Reade asserted a right to recover under the policy for business interruption losses for the entire period until the complex which would replace the World Trade Center was rebuilt.  The insurer argued that the Restoration Period terminated when Duane Reade could have restored operations at locations other than the World Trade Center.  Holding that this was not a dispute to be resolved by appraisal, the district court decided as a matter of law that the Restoration Period ended when Duane Reade was able to resume operations in the location where its World Trade Center store once stood.

An appraisal is appropriate not to resolve legal questions, but rather to address factual disputes over the amount of loss for which an insurer is liable. . . .

Applying these principles, we conclude that appraisal is not appropriate in this case. The dispute here concerns a legal issue about the meaning of Regulation 64. Milligan is not claiming simply that the value of her loss was greater than GEICO’s calculation. Rather, her complaint is that by calculating her loss using the average of three comparable vehicles available in the market (the methodology used in the Market Valuation Report), GEICO failed to comply with Regulation 64, which is incorporated into the Policy.

Defendants’ argument that this case does not present a coverage issue because GEICO paid Milligan’s claim under the Policy misses the mark. Whether a loss is covered is not the only legal question presented in an insurance case.  Questions over the extent of coverage and how to define the amount of loss also present legal questions of contract interpretation. The dispute here concerns the meaning of “the reasonable purchase price to the insured on the date of loss of a new identical vehicle.” That is a legal question requiring the interpretation of Regulation 64.

(Some citations omitted).

Appraisal can be a useful tool for resolving valuation disputes with property insurers.  However, as this decision illustrates, the scope of such an appraisal is limited to factual matters relating to the amount of the loss and does not include legal issues concerning the interpretation of the policy, which must be resolved by a Court.

Posted: April 1, 2019

Coverage Action Stayed As to Insurer’s Duty to Indemnify, But Not Duty to Defend, Pending Resolution of Underlying Civil and Criminal Proceedings Against Insured

On March 28, 2019, Judge Crotty of the SDNY issued a decision in Federal Ins. Co. v. Weinstein, Case No. 18 Civ. 2526 (PAC), granting an insured’s motion to stay a coverage action on the issue of the insurer’s duty to indemnify, pending the resolution of underlying civil and criminal proceedings against the insured, but denying the stay motion as to the duty to defend.

This coverage action arose from the numerous civil and criminal actions (some eighteen in total) against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.  Chubb commenced the action seeking a declaration that it is not obligated to defend or indemnify Weinstein in the underlying actions.  Weinstein moved to stay Chubb’s coverage action on the ground that the coverage issues were intertwined with the issues to be resolved in the underlying dispute.  Judge Crotty denied the motion in part (as to the duty to defend), and granted it in part (as to the duty to indemnify), explaining:

It has long been well-established that a liability insurer may bring an action for a declaratory judgment against the parties in an underlying lawsuit involving its insured without waiting for the underlying action to proceed to judgment.  Nonetheless, federal courts have stayed declaratory judgment actions, or even declined to exercise jurisdiction at the onset, after finding that issues raised in the actions before them either turn on, or would be resolved in part by, determinations of liability yet to be made in the parallel proceedings. . . .

A stay is not warranted here as to Chubb’s duty to defend claims. Weinstein argues that the insurance coverage issues “overlap with, and are derivative of underlying liability issues,” but when it comes to the duty to defend, that is squarely not true. Under both New York and Connecticut law, an insurance provider’s duty to defend is determined solely by comparing the allegations on the face of the underlying complaint(s) to the terms of the policy.  Thus, questions of fault and liability in the Underlying Lawsuits are wholly irrelevant, and in fact, inadmissible evidence, to the duty to defend inquiry the Court will make in this action. . . .

As to the duty to indemnify, however, a stay is warranted in this action. Under both New York and Connecticut law, the duty to indemnify is narrower and distinct from the duty to defend.  In contrast to the duty to defend, “a duty to indemnify cannot be triggered by the mere possibility of coverage; rather, it is triggered by an independent factual finding that the insured’s liability is within the coverage provided by the policy.  As such, courts considering actions for declaratory relief have generally declined to rule on the issue of indemnity until resolution of the underlying liability claim.  Consistent with these cases, the Court will exercise its discretion and order the duty to indemnify claims stayed until resolution of the Underlying Actions.

(Citations omitted).

An insurer is generally precluded from litigating in a coverage action matters that are at issue in the underlying proceedings for which the insured seeks coverage.  Here, the insurer was allowed to proceed with a declaratory judgment action as to its duty to defend, while the underlying actions were pending, but only because the insurer’s arguments for avoiding coverage did not rely on any disputed facts, but rather only the language of the policies and the allegations in the underlying actions.  By contrast, in another case I litigated, Freedom Specialty Ins. Co. v. Platinum Mgt. (NY), LLC, 2017 NY Slip Op 32728(U), Justice Sherwood of the New York County Commercial Division stayed discovery altogether, holding that “the demand for discovery in furtherance of the Excess Insurers’ putative defenses against coverage” was “premature” because “[a] declaratory judgment action cannot be used to conduct discovery regarding the very facts at issue in the EDNY Indictment and the SEC Complaint.”

Posted: March 19, 2019

Evidence Inconclusive on Parties’ Intent to Name Property Owner As Additional Insured Under Contractor’s CGL Policy; Order Granting Summary Judgment Reversed

On March 5, 2019, the First Department issued a decision in M&M Realty of N.Y., LLC v. Burlington Ins. Co., 2019 NY Slip Op 01513, holding the extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent precluded summary judgment on a property owner’s status as an additional insured under a contractor’s CGL policy.

The standard additional insured endorsement at issue in this case provided coverage to any “person or organization” for the whom the contractor was performing services if the contractor had “agreed in writing in a contract or agreement that such person or organization be added as an additional insured on [the contractor’s] policy.”  In a decision previously covered on this blog, Justice Edmead of the New York County Supreme Court held that (1) the contract between the property owner and the contractor was ambiguous as to the intent to name the property owner as an additional insured (it required that “insurance” be provided but did not define the “necessary . . . insurance”); but (2) extrinsic evidence in the form of deposition testimony established “the parties’ intent to confer additional insured status” on the property owner.  The First Department reversed, holding that “the extrinsic evidence properly considered by the motion court does not conclusively demonstrate the parties’ intent . . . but presents an issue of credibility to be determined by a factfinder.”

This decision illustrates the importance of ensuring – before work on a construction project commences – that the underlying agreements have the necessary language to trigger the additional insured endorsements in a contractor’s or sub-contractor’s CGL policy.  A great deal of collateral litigation (including depositions, a summary judgment motion, a trip to the First Department, and now a trial on remand) could have been avoided if the property owner had coverage counsel review the agreements and the CGL policy in advance.

Posted: March 11, 2019

Priority of Coverage Determined By “Other Insurance” Clauses of Applicable Policies

On February 20, 2019, Justice Lebovits of the New York County Supreme Court issued a decision in Flintlock Constr. Servs. LLC v. Technology Ins. Co., 2019 NY Slip Op 30392(U), examining the “other insurance” clauses of two applicable insurance policies to determine the priority of coverage.

In some cases, more than one insurance policy may provide coverage for a given loss.  It is therefore necessary to determine the “priority of coverage” – i.e., whether one policy is “primary”, and therefore, must be exhausted before another “excess” policy kicks in, or whether coverage will be apportioned among co-primary policies.  This determination is governed by a standard policy provision, known as the “other insurance” clause.

Justice Lebovits explained how such “other insurance” clauses are interpreted:

Where several policies cover the same risk, each of which was sold to provide the same level of coverage, as here, the priority of coverage between the policies is determined by comparison of their “other insurance” clauses. Such clauses limit an insurer’s liability where other insurance may cover the same loss. This may be accomplished by providing that the insurance provided by the policy is excess to the insurance provided by other policies, in which case the “other insurance” clause is known as an excess clause. On the other hand, an “other insurance” clause may limit the insurer’s liability by providing that, if other insurance is available, all insurers will be responsible for a stated portion of the loss; an “other insurance” clause of this kind is known as a pro rata clause.

In this case, the applicable “other insurance” clause of the Liberty Policy is an excess clause, because it provides that the insurance was “excess of such [other valid and collectible] insurance” and that Liberty had no duty to defend. The “other insurance” clause in the Technology Policy is a pro rata clause, because it provides that where other primary insurance is available, “we will share with all that other insurance,” either by equal shares or in proportion to policy limits. The First Department has held that

where one of two concurrently applicable insurance policies contains an excess “other insurance” clause and the other contains a pro rata “other insurance” clause, the excess clause is given effect, meaning that the coverage under the policy containing the excess clause does not come into play, and the carrier’s duty to defend is not triggered, until the coverage under the policy containing the pro rata clause has been exhausted.

On the other hand, where both policies contain excess “other insurance” clauses, so that if both excess clauses are given effect the result would leave the insured without any coverage, then the clauses are deemed to cancel each other out, and the insurers must cover the loss on a pro rata basis, as co-primary insurers.

Therefore, giving effect to the Liberty Policy’s excess “other insurance” clause, Flintlock’s coverage as a named insured under the Liberty Policy is excess to Flintlock’s additional insured coverage under the Technology Policy. Thus, it is declared that Liberty’s obligation to defend Flintlock in the Underlying Action from this point forward will not be triggered until Flintlock’s coverage under the Technology Policy has been exhausted.

(Citations omitted).

Posted: February 25, 2019

Additional Insured Endorsement Required That Subcontract Be Executed Prior to Date of Underlying Accident

On January 31, 2019, Justice of Engoron of the New York County Supreme Court issued a decision in Southwest Mar. & Gen. Ins. Co. v. Main St. Am. Assur. Co., 2019 NY Slip Op 30240(U), holding that a blanket additional insured endorsement to a subcontractor’s CGL policy required that the subcontract be executed prior to the underlying injury in order to establish coverage.

This case involves a frequently-litigated coverage issue in construction-related matters:  determining who qualifies as an additional insured under a blanket additional insured endorsement to a contractor’s CGL policy.  Property owners, construction managers and general contractors typically require “downstream” parties on a construction project (i.e., subcontractors) to provide CGL coverage to them.  This is usually accomplished by means of a blanket additional insureds endorsement on the contractor’s policy.

Here, a general contractor (ADC) sought defense coverage as an additional insured under the CGL policy of a subcontractor (Northstar) for a lawsuit by an injured Northstar employee.  Northstar’s CGL policy, issued by Main Street America Assurance Company (MSA), provided that “Any person(s) or organization(s) for whom you are performing operations is . . . an additional insured, when you and such person or organization have agreed in writing in a contract or agreement that such person or organization be added as an additional insured on your policy.”  (Emphasis added).  Northstar disclaimed coverage and a lawsuit followed.

Justice Engoron denied summary judgment, finding that there was an issue of fact as to whether ADC’s subcontract with Northstar was executed prior to the date of the underlying injury.  The Court explained:

Contrary to the argument advanced by ADC, this Court finds that that clear and unambiguous language of the policy issued to Northstar by MSA requires that ADC and Northstar had to have executed a written subcontract agreement prior to the date of the underlying accident in order to trigger coverage for “[a]ny person(s) or organization(s) for whom you are performing operations.” We reject MSA’s reliance on Travelers Indemnity Co. of America v Royal Insurance Co. of America, 22 AD3d 252 (1st Dep’t 2005), as persuasive on this issue. The policy language at issue in Travelers is distinguishable in that it had a comma between the phrase “written contract” and the word “agreement,” leading the First Department to find ambiguity in the coverage requirements. This Court finds, as a majority of other jurisdictions have found, that use of the words “written contract or agreement” unambiguously requires a written document. Persuasive on this issue is Quincy Mutual Fire Ins. Co. v. Imperium Ins., 636 F. App’x 602, 605 (3d Cir. 2016) (holding that “to read it otherwise would render ‘written’ meaningless”).

However, an issue of fact remains as to when the written agreement between ADC and Northstar was executed, and accordingly, an issue of fact as to whether the additional coverage of Northstar’s policy applies to ADC. MSA met its initial prima facie burden of demonstrating that the contract was executed after the underlying accident, by providing the deposition testimony of Mr. Barcelos, shifting the burden to ADC. However, ADC sufficiently rebutted such a showing by submitting the affidavit of its administrative assistant, Ms. Mehl, who asserts it was her custom and practice to date the documents on the date the subcontractor signs.

This decision highlights the need for would-be additional insureds to ensure that their relationship with the named insured is structured to meet the requirements of the additional insured endorsement.  Here, the court concluded that the language in the additional insureds endorsement requiring that the parties have “agreed in writing in a contract or agreement” means that an executed agreement is a necessary condition of coverage.  However, other courts have distinguished between policy language requiring a “written agreement” and an “executed agreement.”  See, for example, our previous post on J.T. Magen & Co., Inc. v. Atlantic Cas. Ins. Co., 2018 NY Slip Op 31584(U) (Schecter, J.) (unsigned purchase order could be sufficient to trigger additional insured coverage where the policies “merely require a written agreement, not an executed agreement”).

Posted: February 11, 2019

“Offer for Sale” Can Constitute Advertising Injury Under CGL Policy

On December 19, 2018, the Second Circuit issued a decision in High Point Design, LLC v. LM Ins. Corp., Docket No. 16-1446-cv, holding that a counterclaim alleging patent and trade dress infringement in an “offer[] for sale” triggered an insurer’s duty to defend under the “advertising injury” provision of a CGL Policy.

This coverage action arose from a dispute over the Fuzzy Babba slipper, manufactured and distributed by High Point.  High Point filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that the slipper did not violate a patent held by Buyers Direct Inc., and Buyers Direct filed a counterclaim for patent and trade dress infringement.

High Point then sued its CGL carrier (Liberty), which refused to defend the counterclaim.  District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the SDNY held that the counterclaims’ use of “the phrase ‘offering for sale’ . . . could be broadly construed as promoting or advertising,” thus triggering the duty to defend a claim for “advertising injury.”  The Second Circuit, in a decision by Judge Pooler, agreed that the CGL carrier was required to defend the counterclaims, explaining:

Whether Liberty owes High Point a defense turns on the meaning of what constitutes an “advertising injury.” There is much confusion in the caselaw concerning when an advertising injury is caused by advertising within the meaning of standard business insurance policies. Courts are to compare the allegations of the complaint to the terms of the policy. If, liberally construed, the claim is within the embrace of the policy, the insurer must come forward to defend its insured no matter how groundless, false or baseless the suit may be.

Here, Liberty argues that the district court erred in finding Liberty owed High Point a duty to defend. We disagree, and find that the “offer[] for sale” alleged in the counterclaim, coupled with the discovery demands seeking advertising materials, triggered Liberty’s duty to defend.

Viewed broadly as required under New York law, an “offer for sale” extends to advertising. We determined in Century 21 [v. Diamond State Ins. Co., 442 F.3d 79, 83 (2d Cir. 2006)] that “marketing,” as used in a similar insurance agreement, extends to advertising. “Marketing” includes activities that are not advertising, but the term also must be understood to refer to activities that accord with the common use of ‘advertising. Similarly, while the term “offer for sale” includes activities that are not advertising, it also includes advertising activity. Indeed, the purpose of most advertising is to “offer for sale” various goods and services. The CGL at issue here recognizes this, defining “Advertisement” to mean “a paid announcement that is broadcast or published in the print, broadcast or electronic media to the general public or specific market segments about your goods, products or services for the purpose of attracting customers or supporters.” The umbrella policy covers an “injury arising out of paid announcements in the print or broadcast media resulting in . . . [i]nfringement of copyright, title or slogan.”

The phrase “offering for sale” may have multiple meanings, some of which do not implicate advertising activity. For example, simply placing an item on the counter with a sign indicating its price is an “offer for sale” even though it is not advertising. Liberty argues that High Point’s advertising could not have caused any advertising injury within the meaning of the policies because the advertising simply displayed the allegedly infringing product. But Buyer’s Direct’s claim that it was injured by High Point’s “offering for sale” the infringing slippers suffices to demonstrate that an advertising injury may have resulted from the use of the infringing trade dress in advertisements. The slippers were not sold encased in packaging of any kind—they were simply displayed as slippers. Displaying the infringing trade dress in an advertisement is an advertising injury for which damages can be awarded where, as here, it is a means by which the alleged infringer creates customer confusion and trades on the offended party’s goodwill and protected designs. . . .

Even if the counterclaims, standing alone, did not place Liberty on notice of its duty to defend, the discovery demands seeking information related to the paid advertisements place High Point’s advertising squarely at issue.

(Emphasis added) (Citations omitted).

The Court vacated Judge Forrest’s damages award, however, reasoning that the insurer’s duty to defend did not arise when the counterclaims were filed, but only when the discovery demands were served.

Judge Newman issued a concurring opinion, taking issue with the majority’s conclusion that the term “offering for sale” includes advertising.  (“The purpose of most (perhaps all) advertising is to persuade the public to buy the advertised goods and services.  “Offering for sale” is simply the act of making a product available for sale.  It is a distortion of language to say that “offering for sale” sometimes means “advertising.”)  Judge Newman also pointed out an apparent contradiction in Judge Pooler’s opinion:  although the decision states that “an ‘offer for sale’ extends to advertising”, the Court held that the counterclaims (which alleged an “offer for sale”) did not trigger the duty to defend; the CGL carrier only had to pay for defense costs as of the date the demand for discovery of advertising information was served.  (“If the existence of the words “offering for sale” in the patent infringement portion of BDI’s counterclaim, whatever their meaning, triggered liability under the Policy, that liability would have covered defense costs incurred from the date Liberty became aware of BDI’s counterclaim.  That was the District Court’s holding, which is now vacated.”)

This decision demonstrates that New York courts will look outside the four corners of the complaint to determine the duty to defend.  More precisely, New York law does not permit the insurer to employ a “wooden application of the ‘four corners of the complaint’ rule” “when it has actual knowledge of facts establishing a reasonable possibility of coverage” – even if those facts are not pled in the complaint. See Fitzpatrick v. American Honda Motor Co., 78 N.Y.2d 61, 66-67 (1991). On the other hand, as previously explained on this blog, an insurer may not rely on evidence outside the “four corners” of the complaint to avoid its duty to defend.

The majority opinion also offers a close reading of a policy exclusion, demonstrating how to parse what Judge Pooler called the “convoluted structure apparently favored by insurance companies.”  I have written a guide to reading an insurance policy, in which I liken the process to assembling a jig saw puzzle.

Posted: February 6, 2019

First Department Finds “No Heightened Pleading Standard” for Consequential Damages in Claim for Bad Faith Claims Handling

On January 17, 2019, the First Department issued a decision in D.K. Prop., Inc. v National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 2019 NY Slip Op 00347, holding that an insured need not satisfy a “heightened pleading standard” in alleging consequential damages arising from an insurer’s bad faith claim handling.

This case involved a claim under a commercial insurance policy for damage to the plaintiff’s office building caused by construction work at an adjoining building.  The plaintiff alleged that “rather than pay the claim,” the insurer “made unreasonable and increasingly burdensome information demands throughout the three year period since the property damage occurred,” and the delay caused the structural damage to the building to worsen.  Further, despite its failure to pay the claim, the insurer sought to intervene as subrogor in the insured’s lawsuit against the owner of the adjacent building, causing the insured “to incur significant, unnecessary legal fees.”

As we have noted in prior posts (see here and here), New York law does not recognize a separate tort claim for bad faith claims handling.  But the courts have permitted insureds to recover consequential damages (above the policy limits) on a theory that the insurer’s bad faith conduct violates the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  Here, the trial court granted a motion to dismiss the insured’s claim for consequential damages (except the claim for attorneys’ fees), concluding that the complaint did not allege, except in a “general conclusory fashion” that the claimed consequential damages “were reasonably contemplated” by the insured and the insurer when they entered into the policy.  The First Department disagreed, explaining:

A plaintiff may sue for consequential damages resulting from an insurer’s failure to provide coverage if such damages (“risks”) were foreseen or should have been foreseen when the contract was made.  Although proof of such consequential damages will ultimately rest on what liability the insurer is found to have “assumed consciously,” or from the plaintiff’s point of view, have warranted the plaintiff to reasonably suppose the insurer assumed when the insurance contract was made, a determination of whether such damages were, in fact, foreseeable should not be decided on a motion to dismiss and must await a fully developed record.  In other words, the inquiry is not whether plaintiff will be able to establish its claim, but whether plaintiff has stated a claim.

Here, plaintiff’s allegations meet the pleading requirements of the CPLR with respect to consequential damages, whether in connection with the first cause of action or the second cause of action for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the context of an insurance contract.  Contrary to defendant’s claim, there is no heightened pleading standard requiring plaintiff to explain or describe how and why the “specific” categories of consequential damages alleged were reasonable and foreseeable at the time of contract.  There is no heightened pleading requirement for consequential damages.

(Citations omitted) (emphasis added).

The Court of Appeals first recognized a claim for consequential damages based on bad faith claims handling in a pair of 2008 cases—Bi-Economy Mkt., Inc. v. Harleysville Ins. Co. of N.Y., 10 N.Y.3d 187, 192 (2008) and Panasia Estates, Inc. v. Hudson Ins. Co., 10 N.Y.3d 200, 203 (2008).  This decision provides important guidance on the pleading standard for such a claim and clarifies that a complaint need not provide detailed allegations as to the foreseeability of each category of alleged damages.