Insurers and Businesses Should Always Consider What Options are Available for Insurance Coverage and Recovery of Insurance Assets When Facing a Dispute, Claim or Lawsuit

One of the most important ways insurance companies and businesses can manage their assets and control their liability is to think creatively about insurance and insuring agreements in managing their day-to-day business operations.  Disputes, claims, and yes, lawsuits often arise in the ordinary course of thriving and vibrant businesses.  This is a natural consequence of a successful business managing risk in the process of seeking to maximize profits.

As insurance coverage counsel, I regularly advise businesses and insurance companies as to their defense and indemnity obligations under commercial general liability, errors and omissions, and workers compensation insurance policies, among others.

I have assisted insurance companies and businesses by guiding them through various aspects of coverage, including initial assessment of coverage positions, preparation and drafting of coverage opinions, including preparing related correspondence to the insurers or insureds, and other parties involved, e.g., coverage denials, reservation of rights, etc., and pursuing, where appropriate, declaratory judgment and/or indemnity and subrogation actions with respect to coverage issues.

In this capacity, I have had several significant successes in both state and federal courts in securing judgments for businesses and insurance companies or in forcing agreeable settlements with insureds and other insurance companies.  Some of the cases and issues I have worked on include the following:

 

  • Providing coverage analysis and primary litigation support in filing a declaratory judgment action filed in federal court for a major national retail store as to potential coverage and indemnification from an insurer under an “additional insured” provision in a vendor / supplier contract between the store and the manufacturer. I served as primary insurance coverage counsel for the store relating to the underlying case, which was a personal injury / product liability lawsuit against the store involving paralysis of a 15-year old.  The plaintiff jumped into shallow water from a water trampoline manufactured by a company that sold a variety of recreation products in the retailer’s stores throughout the country.  The manufacturer and the retailer had a vendor-supplier agreement in which the manufacturer agreed to add the retailer as an additional insured to its general liability insurance policies, and provide indemnity to it for liability arising out of use of its products.  The insurer had agreed to defend the retailer in the lawsuit in Michigan.    Lawsuits were pending against the manufacturer across the country for injuries suffered due to use of another one of its products.  The manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protection in the 8th Circuit in Nebraska, after which the insurer pulled out of the defense of the retailer in Michigan.  I prepared a coverage opinion, concluding the insurer was obligated to continue defending the retailer, and I filed a declaratory judgment action in federal court in Michigan despite the bankruptcy stay.  I fended off attempts by the insurer to enforce the bankruptcy stay against the retailer in Michigan, won motions filed for contempt of the stay, and ultimately succeeded in forcing a settlement of the claim on behalf of the retailer for the total amount of the policy limits to which the retailer would have been entitled for coverage of the underlying claims.  This resulted in a $0 payout by the retailer in settlement of the underlying lawsuit in Michigan.

 

  • Filing suit against an insurance company in federal court for denial of coverage of an underlying lawsuit involving a shooting at a gas station. The case is Employers Mutual Casualty Company v. Al-Mashadi et al., 2009 WL 2711963.  While the underlying lawsuit was pending in circuit court, I filed the declaratory judgment action in federal court, drafted the summary judgment motion and brief, and argued there was no coverage for the underlying lawsuit and claim arising out of a shooting by an employee of one of his friends when the two were engaged in horseplay with a gun belonging to the gas station’s owner.  After arguing the motion, the district court granted the insurer summary judgment, ruling no coverage was owed by the insurance company in the underlying lawsuit.

 

  • Providing emergency litigation and appeal response to a zoning dispute in which an international energy company sought to construct (and did construct) a meteorological testing antenna (MET) a “wind testing tower”, without a proper zoning variance from the insured township. The township’s Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the power company’s appeal for a variance and the power company sued the township.  I stepped in and filed several injunctive motions, including an emergency circuit court appeal to thwart the power company’s efforts to permit the tower to remain as constructed on the property.  The circuit court issued injunctive relief (including an order to tear down the fully constructed tower) and forced the power company to pick up the insurer’s legal fees.

 

  • Preparing a coverage opinion and denial of coverage letter in a defective construction / defective product dispute under an occurrence based general liability policy (including products / completed operations hazards coverage). The insured, a cement company, filed suit against contractors and subcontractors, and a city, for failure to pay for delivery of cement.  The defendants filed a counter-suit under various theories and alleged the cement was defective, causing defects in and need for repair to the newly installed sidewalks.  In its ruling in the underlying suit, the trial court concluded the cement met specifications required by the contract and was therefore not defective.  A combination of factors led to the defective sidewalks, but not the delivery by the cement company of a defective product. The weight of authority provides that no “occurrence” arises from the provision of a non-defective product when the manufacturer of that product seeks coverage for damages alleged as the result of incorporation of its product into other work.  Since the insured provided a product that met the specifications required for the municipal sidewalk project there was no “occurrence” and therefore no coverage for the claims in the underlying lawsuit.

 

  • Providing a “second look” coverage opinion where in-house coverage counsel concluded there was no coverage for business interruption losses as a result of a large stage collapse and resulting debris field on the floor of the Pontiac Silverdome during summer months when the Silverdome was rented out for various events. The insured supplied the staging, decking and truss grids for the event.  Contractors and subcontractors were employed to erect it.  I analyzed the applicable policy language and concluded coverage was owed on the precise risk involved.  The policy covered “property damage” which included the loss of use of property caused by an occurrence, even if that property had not itself been damaged.  Michigan courts have awarded consequential damages such as “delay damages”, “lost profits”, and “diminution in value and use”, in cases under commercial general liability policies with similar or identical language to the policies covering “occurrences” “because of” “property damage”.  As none of the “business risk” exclusions in the policy applied, and it appeared the stage collapse was not due to the fault of the subcontractors or contractors employed to erect the stage, coverage was arguably owed and the insurer had a duty to defend and potentially indemnify the owner of the Silverdome.

Feel free to call or contact me if your business would like to explore options regarding insurance coverage and recovery.

 

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