Travelers Does Not Owe Pharmaceutical Company Defense, Indemnity, In Opioid Suits

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RIVERSIDE, Nov. 6 – An intermediate appeals court in California has ruled that Travelers and St. Paul Insurance companies owe no duty to defend or indemnify Watson Pharmaceutical in governmental suits against the pharmaceutical company over the deceptive marketing of opioids.

In Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am. v. Actavis, Inc., et al, No. G053749, 2017 Cal. App. Lexis 976 (Nov. 6, 2017)(Fybel, J.), The Court of Appeals of California held that under CGL policies issued by Travelers and Saint Paul, the exclusion from coverage of any liability arising out of manufactured products or “completed operations” relieved the insurers of the duty to defend or indemnify.   In the Court’s opinion, Associate Justice Richard Fybel described the nature of the underlying litigation against Watson and the other Parma defendants:

“The California Complaint and the Chicago Complaint are based on allegations that Watson and the other defendants engaged in a fraudulent scheme to promote the use of opioids for long-term pain in order to increase corporate profits. Both complaints allege that Watson had by the 1990’s developed the ability to cheaply produce opioid painkillers, but the market for them was small. Defendants knew that opioids were an effective treatment for short-term postsurgical pain, trauma-related pain, and end-of-life care and knew that, except as a last resort, “opioids were too addictive and too debilitating for long-term use for chronic non-cancer pain.” Defendants knew the effectiveness of opioids decreases with prolonged use, requiring increases in dosages and “markedly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction.”

While acknowledging an insurer’s duty to defend was separate and broader than its duty to indemnify, the Court found no potential for coverage in the underlying suits because the conduct complained in the underlying suits was not accidental or fortuitous:

“The injuries alleged [in the underlying suits] are: (1) a nation ‘awash in opioids’;  (2) a nationwide “opioid-induced [*24]  ‘public health epidemic'”; (3) a resurgence in heroin use; and (4) increased public health care costs imposed by long-term opioid use, abuse, and addiction, such as hospitalizations for opioid overdoses, drug treatment for individuals addicted to opioids and intensive care for infants born addicted to opioids.

None of those injuries was additional, unexpected, independent, or unforeseen. The complaints allege Watson knew that opioids were unsuited to treatment of chronic long-term, nonacute pain and knew that opioids were highly addictive and subject to abuse, yet engaged in a scheme of deception in order to increase sales of their opioid products. It is not unexpected or unforeseen that a massive marketing campaign to promote the use of opioids for purposes for which they are not suited would lead to a nation “awash in opioids.” It is not unexpected or unforeseen that this marketing campaign would lead to increased opioid addiction and overdoses. Watson allegedly knew that opioids were highly addictive and prone to overdose, but trivialized or obscured those risks.”

The Court also found that the underlying complaints set forth no claims against the pharmaceutical companies potentially sounding in negligence, and that the Products and Completed Operations Exclusions were clear and  unambiguous, such that they relieved the insurers from the duty to defend or indemnify the companies.

Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am. v. Actavis, Inc., et al, No. G053749, 2017 Cal. App. Lexis 976 (Nov. 6, 2017)(Fybel, J.),

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Georgia: Lead Paint Claims Barred by CGL Pollution Exclusion

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GEORGIA, May 26 – The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that a CGL policy pollution exclusion bars coverage for claims against the insured landlord for injuries resulting from  lead paint ingestion.

In Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Smith, 784 S.E.2d 422 (Ga. 2016) the insurer sought a declaratory judgment that it did not owe defense or indemnity to its insured landlord in an underlying suit against the landlord by a tenant who claims she sustained as a result of ingesting lead paint in a rental home.   Georgia Farm Bureau relied on an absolute pollution exclusion in the policy.  The exclusion by its terms did not cover injury “arising out of the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape of ‘pollutants.’”  The policy defined “pollutants” as “any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste.”

The insurer won summary judgment on the exclusion at the trial court level, the court holding that lead-based paint was unambiguously a “pollutant” as defined in the policy.  An appeals court reversed, observing a split in jurisdictions, noting that some jurisdictions applied the exclusion only in instances of “industrial pollution.” The insurer appealed.

The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, finding that the absolute pollution exclusion applied from injury arising from exposure to lead-based paint.

Georgia Farm Bureau Ins. v. Smith et. al., 784 S.E.2d 422 (Ga. 2016)

Michigan: Apartment Fire Smoke Not Pollutant In CGL Policy

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MICHICAN, May 31 –  The Michigan Supreme Court refused to address or overturn a lower court’s determination that smoke from an apartment complex fire doesn’t constitute a pollutant within the meaning of a pollution exclusion in a commercial general liability policy.  The effect of the ruling leaves a judgment against XL Insurance in place.

Plaintiffs Charlie and Mary Hobson sued apartment owners as well as XL after sustaining injuries in an apartment fire. The Hobsons claimed that XL wrongfully denied insurance coverage to the apartment entities.  XL had sought a ruling that smoke related injuries, including smoke inhalation arising out of an apartment fire,  constituted excluded pollution related losses within the meaning of the landlord’s CGL policy.   The Hobson’s responded that smoke related losses were a component of the fire,  clearly contemplated by the CGL coverage, and were not within the pollution exclusion.   The trial court denied the insurer’s motion for summary disposition and a three-judge panel of an intermediate appeals court affirmed.

The state supreme per Justice Brian Zahra court declined to hear the matter:

“[W]hile this case presents an interesting question of contract interpretation, because the record is undeveloped with regard to what constitutes a discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release, or escape [of pollutants] under the endorsement, I agree with my colleagues that leave should be denied.”

Charlie B. Hobson et al. v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co. et al.(Mich 2016, case number 151447).  A link to the prior Court of Appeals opinion can be found here.

 

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