Unfair Trade Claims Not Covered By Liability Insurance, Pa. Appeals Court Rules

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PITTSBURGH, Feb. 25 – The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that Westfield Insurance is not obligated to defend or indemnify an insured from civil claims of unfair trade practices.

Westfield’s insured, PeopleKeys,  sued a former employee for misappropriation of trade secrets in federal court in Ohio, and the employee filed a counterclaim against PeopleKeys, alleging unfair business competition.  The counterclaim alleged that PeopleKeys’ suit was baseless, and done for the purposes of unfair competition with the former employee.  The counterclaim against PeopleKeys alleged PeopleKeys’ knew of the falsity of the allegations contained in the Ohio trade secrets litigation.  PeopleKeys submitted the counterclaim for defense and indemnity to its insurer, Westfield.

After Westfield denied coverage under the policy’s  Personal Advertising Injury Coverage Endorsement, PeopleKeys filed a breach of contract and bad faith suit against Westfield in Pennsylvania state court.  Westfield filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, on grounds that the policy’s Personal Advertising Injury Endorsement did not apply to the Ohio counterclaim, and even if it did, the endorsement contained exclusions for 1.)  claims alleging knowing violation of the rights of another, or 2.)  claims for publication of material the insured knew to be false.  The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the claims against Westfield.

The Pa. Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of Westfield’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Westfield had no duty to defend nor indemnify PeopleKeys in the Ohio litigation because the intentional conduct and knowing falsity exclusions to the Personal Advertising Injury Endorsement applied.  The Court, analyzing the counterclaim against Westfield under Ohio law, found that the allegations against Westfield plainly referred to intentional misconduct on the part of PeopleKeys, thereby barring coverage.

PeopleKeys, Inc. v. Westfield Insurance Company (Pa. Super., Feb. 25, 2016)

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