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Eleventh Circuit Becomes Second Federal Appellate Court To Hold No Coverage For COVID-19 Business Losses

In the second federal appellate ruling on Covid-19 business losses, the Eleventh Circuit has joined the Eighth Circuit in holding that they do not trigger coverage because they do not involve “physical loss” or “physical damage” to property. In Gilreath Family & Cosmetic Dentistry Inc. v. Cincinnati Insurance Co., No. 21-11046, Slip. Op. (11th Cir. Aug. 31, 2021), the insured dentistry practice canceled routine and elective dental procedures at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in response to state orders and CDC recommendations. Because these procedures made up the bulk of its business, the insured lost a substantial portion of its usual income. To recover that lost income, the insured filed a claim for business interruption coverage with its insurer.

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Posted in Federal Appeals

Southern District of New York Holds Contamination Exclusion is Ambiguous as Applied to Covid-19 Business Losses

The Southern District of New York recently held that a contamination exclusion was ambiguous in the context of Covid-19-related business interruption losses. Accordingly, the court held that the issue was inappropriate to decide at the summary judgment stage and denied both parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.    In Thor Equities LLC v. Factory Mut. Ins. Co., No. 1:20-cv-03380 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2021), an insured commercial property owner sought business interruption coverage under its property insurance policy. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, asking the court to determine the applicability of two exclusions, one of which was a contamination exclusion. The exclusion excluded “contamination, and any cost due to contamination including the inability to use or occupy property or any

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Posted in Contamination

Policyholders’ Counsel Test “Mother of All” Covid-19 Coverage Suits in a Bid to Block Insurers’ Path to Federal Court

Covid-19 has caused trillions in business losses. Whether those losses are covered by commercial property insurance is an existential issue for both policyholders and insurers. But before that legal battle, the battlefield must be chosen. Do these coverage suits belong in federal or state court? In July 2020, a group of 42 Chicago restaurants and bars filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court against 19 commercial property insurers, seeking coverage for Covid-19 business losses,[1] in what plaintiffs’ counsel called the “mother of all” Covid-19 coverage suits.[2] A few days later, the same counsel filed a suit in New York state court on behalf of 94 restaurants and bars against 41 insurers.[3] Both suits allege that the insurers wrongly denied coverage,

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Posted in Coverage, Fraud

North Carolina Court Finds Coverage for Restaurants’ COVID-19 Business Income Losses

A trial level court in North Carolina recently found coverage under first-party property insurance policies for the insured restaurants’ COVID-19-related business income losses.  In North State Deli, LLC et al. v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., et al., Case No. 20-CVS-02569 in the General Court of Justice, Superior Court Division, County of Durham, Judge Orlando F. Hudson, Jr. granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiff-insureds, finding that plaintiffs’ business income losses resulting from the governmental shutdown of its business constituted a “loss” to property, sufficient to trigger coverage under the Cincinnati policies.  Although similarly situation insureds will undoubtedly rely on this decision in support of their claims for coverage, it is important to note that the North State Deli decision relies heavily

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Posted in Business Interuption, Causes of Loss, Coverage, Direct Physical Loss or Damage, Order of Civil Authority

Trouble Brewing: Florida Federal Court Dismisses Beer Distributor’s Claim for COVID-19 Losses

Insurance claims arising out of COVID-19-related commercial losses have been hotly contested, and lawsuits have been filed across the country by policyholders seeking coverage for lost business income.  These claims typically raise similar coverage questions – whether the spread of a virus could constitute “direct physical loss,” whether civil authority coverage is triggered, and whether virus exclusions preclude coverage.  In Harvest Moon Distributors, LLC v. Southern-Owners Insurance Company, Case no. 6:20-cv-1026-Orl-40DCI, Judge Paul Byron of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently granted an insurer’s motion to dismiss in a different type of COVID-19 claim, relating to spoliation of product after a contract fell through.  The insured, Harvest Moon Distributors, LLC (“Harvest Moon”), is a wine

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Posted in Coverage, Direct Physical Loss or Damage

Eleventh Circuit Confirms Cleaning is not Direct Physical Loss

The Eleventh Circuit has provided some clarity to Florida businesses and their insurers dealing with COVID-19 claims. In Mama Jo’s Inc., d.b.a. Berries v. Sparta Ins. Co., No. 18-12887 (11th Cir. March 18, 2020), the Court held that a restaurant’s lost income and extra cleaning costs due to nearby roadwork did not trigger coverage because it did not involve direct physical loss or damage. In the underlying case pending in the Southern District of Florida, Mama Jo’s, Inc. v. Sparta Ins. Co., 17-CV-23362-KMM, 2018 WL 3412974, at *9 (S.D. Fla. June 11, 2018), the Court considered whether there was a direct physical loss when construction debris and dust from road work required the insured to clean its floors, walls, tables,

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Posted in Coverage, Direct Physical Loss or Damage

JPML Will Not Allow Centralization of MDL Covid-19 Lawsuits

On April 20, 2020, two policyholders involved in Covid-19 class action suits filed the first motion with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) asking for the transfer and coordination or consolidation of two class actions suits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with nine so-called “related actions” filed in federal courts in Illinois, Florida, New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, California, Oregon, and Texas and “subsequent tag-along actions.”[1] Others followed suit in attempting to transfer, coordinate, and/or consolidate actions into several MDLs. There are currently more than 100 insurance companies named as defendants in the cases proposed for transfer. About The Authors

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Posted in Business Interuption, Direct Physical Loss or Damage

Correlation or Causation for Coronavirus-Related Business Income Losses

In the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, countless businesses have reduced or closed operations—some permanently. Flights have been canceled, hotels and restaurants have closed, and employees have been told to stay home. Naturally, businesses will seek to offset their financial losses during this period. Some businesses may file insurance claims under their Business Income coverage. Common Business Income (and Extra Expense) Coverage Forms might state: “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 [covered] property ….” There has been much discussion of what constitutes “physical loss” and of policy

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Posted in Hurricane Ike, Uncategorized
About The Property Insurance Law Observer
For more than four decades, Cozen O’Connor has represented all types of property insurers in jurisdictions throughout the United States, and it is dedicated to keeping its clients abreast of developments that impact the insurance industry. The Property Insurance Law Observer will survey court decisions, enacted or proposed legislation, and regulatory activities from all 50 states. We will also include commentary on current issues and developing trends of interest to first-party insurers.
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