No one wants to be sued, businesses especially. They particularly do not want to be sued by their customers or vendors. Many companies invest significant resources into policies and procedures designed specifically to avoid lawsuits. Unfortunately, some organizations choose to view lawsuits as the primary means of resolving disputes with others.
The failure to understand insurance coverage can create significant gaps in a company’s exposure. Businesses need to make sure they understand the terms of their policies when shopping for coverage to make sure what looks like a good deal isn’t paying a little less money for a lot less coverage. Professional liability policies, also known as errors and omissions coverage, can create some of these issues simply because of the way these policies vary from normal insurance coverage.
When people think of property insurance, they often immediately think of buildings – things like houses, retail stores, or warehouses. If they continue the thought further, they may think of additional items of property like furniture or inventory. These items have a very real physical presence, and that physical presence subjects them to potential damage or loss from known hazards like a fire or water damage. Property insurance exists to protect individuals and companies from that loss.
It seems not a week goes by these days without news breaking of another massive data breach affecting hundreds of millions of people. At the end of November 2018, Marriot, the global hotel chain, announced they had been hacked and the personal information of five hundred million preferred customers had been exposed to criminals. What’s worse, Marriott announced the original data breach occurred over four years ago, leaving people unknowingly at risk for identity theft during that time.
Commercial general liability policies provide insurance on a per occurrence basis. What constitutes an occurrence, though, is an area of significant debate. This is an issue that constantly arises in construction cases, especially construction defect. The commercial general liability standard language defines an occurrence as an “accident . . .”. Yet courts have divided on whether faulty workmanship in the course of construction constitutes an “accident” and therefore an “occurrence” triggering coverage under a commercial general liability policy.
Risk transfers are a vital aspect of any comprehensive risk management plan. Theoretically, those in the best position to avoid a risk should always bear responsibility for the risk. The real world does not work that way, unfortunately. Oftentimes, larger companies and larger contractors use risk transfers to try and push liability “downhill” – onto the backs of smaller companies with less negotiating leverage.
Ever since August 27, 2015, employers that use staffing agencies, employ subcontractors or have franchisees have faced significant uncertainty over the extent to which they constitute employers according to the United States Department of Labor. On that day, the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California. The Browning-Ferris decision overturned recent precedent regarding when two or more entities would qualify as joint employers.
Contracts in some industries, especially construction, often require an additional insured endorsement as part of the contract’s insurance requirements. This normally takes the form of the general contractor requiring a subcontract to list the general contractor as an additional insured on their general liability policy, as well as others. Because of these requirements, many general liability policies offer a blanket additional insured endorsement for any entity required to be added as an additional insured by a written contract. The language used in these contracts and endorsements can have far-reaching consequences and failing to understand them can cost companies millions of dollars.
As companies, states, workers compensation boards, and various federal government agencies grapple with the growing opioid epidemic, litigation against the pharmaceutical companies producing opioids for medical treatment has begun in earnest. Multiple state governments have sued these companies alleging a host of legal violations, often centered around deceptive marketing claims. These lawsuits have in turn caused a number of spin-off actions between insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to determine the extent to which insurance companies have duties to defend or indemnify the pharmaceutical companies from the ongoing litigation.
Insurance companies have a duty to their policyholders to attempt to settle litigation that might exceed policy limits in good faith. This duty means that insurance companies must act honestly, intelligently, and objectively in deciding whether to accept a settlement offer that stays within the policy limits. Failure to do so may result in the insurance company being liable for the entirety of the judgment against the policyholder, even if the verdict exceeds the policy limits.