A Roadmap For CGL Insurers To Disclaim Defense and Indemnity For Underlying Opioid Litigation

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In a post last  week, we discussed an appeals court opinion from California, Traveler’s Prop. Cas. Co. of Am. v. Actavis, Inc., 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 976, which ruled that Travelers Insurance had no duty to defend or indemnify pharmaceutical company insured who was sued by various state and local government units for deceptive practices leading to the overuse and abuse of opioids.  The opinion is a signpost on a road to what is likely to come a multiplicity of opioid suits against the drug-makers by governmental health organizations now overwhelmed with the problems arising out of opioid addition and abuse.

Insurers should be ready, therefore, to stake out clear lines demarcating the limits of the CGL coverage they wrote and priced, which  did not contemplate opioid suits.  Here is a very brief review of key points for successfully disclaiming duties to defend and indemnify insurers never contemplated:

What Does Your Policy Say?

CGL policies routinely cover “occurrences” which are traditionally seen to be accidental, unintended, and unexpected.  As discussed below, the current trend in opioid litigation is the allegation of intentional, deliberate conduct on the part of pharmaceutical companies.

In addition,  CGL policies routinely come with “Products and Completed Work” and / or “Completed Operations / Your Product” exclusions.  In the California case discussed earlier this week, and in most Pharma CGL’s, there is also a “Products-Completed Operations Hazard – Medical and Biotechnology” exclusion, which was seen by the Court as directly on point in Actavis.  The definition of an “occurrence” under the policy, and exclusions like these are the first steps to defining coverage, and these provisions have routinely been held by courts across the U.S. to be clear and unambiguous.

What Is Your Insured Being Sued For?

The emerging trend in opioid litigation against the manufacturers is the allegation by state and local governmental health units that the manufacturers deliberately misrepresented the benefits and downplayed the risks of opioids to self-grow demand for the drugs, and to diminish concern in the medical community for the risks and downside of opioid products, namely addiction.    The allegations sound in intentional conduct and intentionally deceptive trade and marketing practices, and are not the  types of allegations of accident or negligence which CGL polices are intended to cover, i.e., they are generally not “occurrences” as defined in the CGL policy.

The Actavis Court went to great pains to examine the underlying complaints against the drug makers, and in the end it found that the conduct complained of was neither accidental nor fortuitous such that it would be insurable under the CGL, but rather calculated and intentional.

Avoid The “Duty to Defend” Trap

While in the Actavis case the court recognized the distinction between an insurer’s duty to defend and duty to indemnity, it also  pointed out that where there is no possibility of coverage, not even the broad duty to defend was triggered.  The Court found that all of the conduct alleged was deliberate and not accidental, and that, according to the underlying complaints, none of the damages caused by the drug makers were unexpected or unforeseen.   It held, therefore, that not even the duty to defend was triggered.

There is case law in almost every jurisdiction holding that the duty to defend is not so broad and infinite as to require an insurer to defend its insured if there is no possible way the underlying wrongful conduct comes within the terms and conditions of the policy.   Insurers should take advantage of this to avoid incurring defense costs in these kinds of opioid cases where it is almost certain to never have a duty to indemnify.

The Best Defense…..

The costs of defending opioid litigation is, and will continue to be substantial.  Therefore, in the right cases, an insurer may be wise to invest in an early, interventional, declaratory judgment suit to free itself from any question of its duty to either defend, or indemnify insureds in the type of litigation seen in the Actavis case.  So too, early, well -reasoned denial letters, and, where appropriate, reservations of rights letters, will help protect the insurer from covering a risk it may never have contemplated, and certainly never priced into the policy it sold.

As discussed above, opioid litigation of the type seen in Actavis is likely to multiply.  Insurers should take pains to make sure that the CGL policies they issued, which  cover only accidental occurrences arising out of negligence, are not converted into product liability insurance for injuries and damages caused by opioids.

 

 

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Six Red Flag Indicators of Reverse Bad Faith

 

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While the debate still goes on across jurisdictions  as to whether and how the reverse bad faith of an insured serves as a defense to an insurer in a bad faith case, that reverse bad faith has a place of some sort in bad faith litigation is much less open to doubt.  Most jurisdictions recognize a place for consideration of the conduct of the insured in bad faith litigation, largely because it is grossly inequitable to judge a two-party interaction by the conduct of only one of those parties.  Fundamental fairness would seem to require that if the light of scrutiny is to be placed on the handling of an insurance claim, it be placed on two parties, not one.

Reverse bad faith comes in all shapes, sizes and shades.  Sometimes it is overt;  other times it is more passive.  Here are six of the biggest red flags indicating the presence of the reverse bad faith of the insured in an insurance claim:

  1.  The Early-Onset Time Limit Settlement Demand – This is one of the most obvious signs that the insured may be looking to construct a bad faith claim where one may well not otherwise exist.  This tactic is designed to pressure the insurer to pay a claim before it has had the full and fair opportunity to investigate it, or risk being painted as failing to settle within the limits after it is too late.   It is also the subject of an earlier  post  on how to defend against them.
  2. Refusal to Reduce A Policy Limits Demand – An intractable policy limits demand by an insured can be the functional equivalent of a “low-ball” settlement offer from the insurer.   In Pennsylvania, for example, courts have held that a limits demand by an insured can be tantamount to expressing no interest in compromise, which in turn may relieve the insurer of settlement responsibility.  Zapille v. Amex Assurance,  2007 WL 1651271 (Pa. Super. 2007)  As a result, an insured’s failure to contribute to a settlement-conducive environment is relevant to bad faith analysis.
  3. Delay – This one is the easiest to spot among The Big Six,  and relatively easy to prove.   Most courts consider the insured’s responsibility for delaying the life span of an insurance claim in bad faith litigation. Some courts have gone so far as to say that an insurer has a reasonable expectation that information requested will be provided promptly and accurately.  Delay which may be considered reverse bad faith is not merely calendar delay occasioned by the insured’s failure to respond, it can also be delay cause by the insured’s giving false, misleading, or partial answers to questions or requests for information. See, e.g., Sadel v. Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America et al., No. 09-612, 2011 WL 292239 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 31, 2011).
  4. Failure To Cooperate In Investigation – this is a close cousin of delay.  Non-cooperation is often most seen in an insured’s failure to produce medical authorizations, requested medical, wage, and property records, or the failure to  submit to an examination under oath, or an independent medical examination.
  5. Inconsistent, Exaggerated, and Untruthful Information – If an insured presents answers for information at various times which conflict with each other, or are plainly exaggerated or not truthful, this is fairly reliable evidence of reverse bad faith.  At a minimum, it may justify the insurer’s denial of a claim, extension of investigation, or lower settlement offer.
  6. Is The Insured Represented? – While this red flag is not intended to paint all practitioners with  the same broad brush, it would be foolish not to identify this factor as a potential red flag in the ferreting out of reverse bad faith.  I have lost count of the number of depositions of insureds I have taken in which I receive only a blank stare in response to the questions, “Do you know what bad faith is?” or “Can you tell me how the insurer committed bad faith in the handling of your insurance claim?” Insureds in and of themselves are not prone to the advocacy which tends to present itself when a trained legal professional has a contingent interest in the outcome of an insurance claim.

If any of these six factors are present in an insurance claim, it could well be that there may be some conduct on the part of the insured which the fact finder should consider in the bad faith analysis.

For more information on identifying and defending against reverse bad faith in the claims process, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

Bullet-Proof Insurance Coverage Opinions, Part I

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In this post, we begin a brief look at the building blocks of a bullet-proof legal opinion on an insurance coverage issue.  Legal departments should look for these elements and insist on them in written coverage opinions from outside counsel, and outside counsel should make sure to use these elements as touchstones, in order to provide the most reliable coverage opinion possible.

Identify and Clarify The Precise Coverage Issue(s) Examined

Clarity and precision are required up front — if they are not, the entire opinion will falter and fail to provide what the client is asking for.  This seems obvious, but I am continually surprised by how often I get the question (or at least of piece of it)  wrong during the first phone call from general counsel or a claims executive.  It should be mandatory for outside counsel to state verbally or in a preliminary note to the client what she believes the coverage issue to be.  Why?  Because it is the first and best chance the client will get to make sure it is going to get what it believes it is asking for.  And it is the first and best chance to clear the legal opinion of any  confusion, mistake, and misunderstanding.

Another reason for this exercise is to identify sub-issues, or follow-on coverage issues which may present themselves.  If the client wants an opinion on Exclusion A, might it also want opinion on Exclusion D, as well as the exceptions to exclusions A and D?  Should it want one?   Not only does this ensure that the client gets an opinion on what it wants, it ensures the client gets an opinion which serves the purposes behind it:  advice and protection.   A partial coverage opinion which ignores related issues is likely to be criticized as myopic or artificially crafted in favor of insurer.    A complete coverage opinion, on the other hand,  covering all related issues, is much less assailable down the road.

Once the issues are clarified and refined, they should be stated at or near the outset of the written coverage opinion.

Identify  and Lay Down the Factual Matrix of the Coverage Opinion

A good legal opinion contains a thorough recitation of all known, relevant  facts germane to the coverage determination.  The written opinion should also advise the insurer that if there are additional facts the legal department would like outside counsel to consider, those facts should be provided to counsel and a supplemental opinion offered.   While this serves to protect outside counsel in the proffering of an opinion, it also ensures again that the client gets precisely what it wants from outside counsel.  It provides the legal department seeking the opinion to make sure that all of the facts it wants considered  to be taken into account, and ensures that mistakes can be fixed before the coverage opinion is provided.

All key facts should be stated in the written coverage opinion.  This also implies that facts which are peripheral, irrelevant, and unnecessary to the coverage determination need not be continued.  Heft does not equal value, and no in-house general counsel is going to appreciate you providing a 20-page  coverage opinion when 8  would have done the job just as well.  The coverage  opinion will only be as good as the foundation of facts upon which it is based, and set down in the opinion itself.

In Part II of Bullet-Proof Coverage Opinions, we will take up the importance of inclusion of the applicable policy terms and conditions at issue, analysis and discussion of applicable legal precedent interpreting those provisions, thoughtful legal analysis, and providing for contingencies in the opinion.

Defeating The Third Party Time Limit Settlement Demand

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It’s the most common arrow in the quiver of plainfiffs’ lawyers when it comes to dealing with insurance companies:  the time limit settlement demand.  It’s used as a multi-purpose tool  against insurers to 1.) force an early settlement of the underlying third party  claim; 2.) prevent the insurer from conducting a full investigation into the underlying claim; 3.) drive a wedge between the insurer and its insured; and 4.) set up assignment of a follow-on bad faith claim in the event of an excess verdict in the third party claim.

Here’s how insurers can successfully defend against this tactic every time:

Document Receiving The Demand, And Immediately Request An Extension To Respond

This seems a rather obvious suggestion, but in practice it is overlooked as many times as utilized,  in my experience.   The failure to document receipt of the time limit settlement demand will not be of any help, and it exposes the insurer to the allegation of sloppy claims handling and inattentiveness to the claim.   If it arrives, when it arrives, acknowledge it in writing to the Plaintiff’s lawyer.

Especially when the time limits demand arrives early in the claims investigation, a written request for extension to respond to the demand should be made in writing immediately.  And of course, any refusal by plaintiff’s counsel to agree to the extension should be documented as well.

Document The Investigation Which Must Be Done Before Responding

While not strictly necessary, it is extremely helpful to identify with as much specificity as possible  the nature and extent of investigation you would like additional time to complete.    Providing these specifics will prevent any claim that the insurer is merely requesting additional time to delay paying the claim.

Obviously, the proposed investigation steps should be followed, and the results documented in the claims file.  Requesting an extension to investigate the claim and then failing to do the investigation exposes an insurer to bad faith exposure for  unreasonable delay.

Document Any Attempts By The Plaintiff’s Lawyer To Delay or Obstruct The Investigation

It happens.  Some zealous advocates are not content with merely refusing a request for an extension; in order to manufacture insurer delay the insurer will find that it is unable to get medical authorizations promptly, or unable to schedule the claimant’s examination under oath, to name two.  It is important that the claims file document accurately document responsibility for delay, or for expiration of the time limit demand, especially if the plaintiff’s lawyer is being either not helpful or worse, obstructing the investigation.

Keep The Insured Apprised, And Document That

In order to discharge the fiduciary duty an insurer owes to its insured in defending him or her in a third partly claim, the insured must be included and involved in communications involving the claim.  This is especially true where the insurer refuses to settle the underlying claim within policy limits, theoretically exposing the insured to an excess judgment.

An insurer does not have an obligation to settle non-meritorious or questionable claims within the insured’s policy limits.  However, if the insurer decides not to respond to a time limit demand, or refuses to settle a claim,  that should be communicated to the insured in advance of the time limit demand deadline, and the specific reasons for the insurer’s course should be provided to the insured.

Dual Benefits

All of the above steps will not only be of use in defending a follow – on bad faith claim should it come down the road, but it will lead to better results, and allow for proper investigation, of the underlying third party claim.  For more information on how to effectively rebut and defend against third party time limit settlement demands, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

NJ Gov. Signs Fraudulent COI Bill

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has signed legislation which makes it expressly illegal to request the issuance of certificates of insurance which contain false or misleading information. Click on link below for full text of bill.

New Jersey Bill S-3270

Prevent. Protect. Defend.

Welcome to Badfaithadvisor.com!  Our goal is to serve as an information hub for Insurers and their In-House legal teams to help them navigate current issues in insurance coverage and bad faith.  We will provide case updates, but more importantly practical advice on preventing and avoiding unnecessary exposure in the first instance, and successfully defending against such exposure in the second.

Have a question or request? Send an email to chaddick@dmclaw.com  or give me a call at 717-731-4800, and we will be happy to provide something of interest and value to you.

Best,
CJ Haddick