Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted a writ application to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in Watkins v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et. al.—an action involving plaintiff’s damages from decedent’s potential NORM (i.e., naturally occurring radioactive material) exposure. The central issue before the court is whether the one-year period to bring a survival action
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is seeking public comments regarding a proposal for a new online whistleblower complaint form. The form, which would allow whistleblowers to electronically submit whistleblower complaints directly to OSHA, is part of OSHA’s proposal to revise the information collection requirements for handling retaliation complaints filed with OSHA under various…
The Medicare laws have undergone significant changes. With the relatively new reporting regulations and the focus on compliance, litigators must implement new procedures in their practice. Many companies are establishing guidelines to obtain information needed to comply with the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (“MSP”) and the Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (“MMSEA”).…
The purpose of this post is to provide insureds with general information that will assist them in recognizing important facts and issues related to insurance coverage of environmental disasters. The primary areas addressed include (1) understanding the general types of potential insurance coverage; (2) recognizing environmental disasters; (3) deciding what to do once an environmental disaster is discovered to improve the possibility of insurance coverage and finally, (4) long term plans to improve coverage of potential future environmental disaster claims.
Insurance Coverage for Environmental Disaster Coverage is a complicated subject that must consider many different issues over many different timelines and many different jurisdictions with many different types of hazards. Understanding what an environmental disaster is and recognizing that one has occurred is the first thing an insured must do. Until the insured has recognized that an environmental disaster has occurred, it cannot ask the insurer for coverage and it cannot provide notice and coverage cannot be triggered. There are many different types of environmental disasters, a brief review of the history of the pollution exclusion in general liability policies provides some prospective as to how insurers look at environmental disasters and coverage.
Early standard general liability policies issues prior to 1966 contained insuring agreements that provided coverage for injury (caused by accident). The standard insurance service organization (ISO form) which is a general liability form used by most insurers was revised in 1966 to provide coverage for an “occurrence” with neither “expected” nor “intended” by the insured and specifically included continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same conditions in its coverage. As a result of these changes, claims related to environmental damages increase dramatically. Insurers using the standard form added a mandatory endorsement in 1970 (ISO Form 00020173 1973) that excluded coverage using the following language:
“Bodily injury or property damage arising out of the discharge, dispersal, release or escape of smoke vapors, fumes, acids, alkalis, toxic chemicals, liquids or gases, waste materials or other irritants, contaminants or pollutants into or upon land, the atmosphere or any watercourse or body of water.”
The referenced ISO form was often used in conjunction with a carve-back in of coverage which provided: “this exclusion does not apply if such discharge, dispersal, release or escape is sudden and accidental.”
As you might expect, and as many of you may know, the 1970’s and 1980’s were a turbulent period for insureds and insurers who were engaged in coverage disputes under CGL policies for pollution related claims. Courts in the various jurisdictions reached different conclusions and were often at odds which made predicting coverage difficult.
The insurers, through the insurance service organization, created an absolute pollution exclusion in 1985 (See ISO form CG0021207), which excluded coverage for the following:
“Bodily injury” or property damage” arising out of the actual, alleged, or threatened discharge, dispersal, release or escape of pollutants:
At or from any premises, site or location which is or was at any time owned, occupied, or rented or loaned to, an insured[.]
“Pollutants” means solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste. Waste includes materials to be recycled, reconditioned or reclaimed.”
The absolute pollution exclusion lacked an exception for coverage for sudden or accidental problems and it did not provide coverage for allegations or threats of a polluting event and it also eliminated the requirement for a discharge into a foreign land, the atmosphere or water course or a body of water.
Not surprisingly, the absolute pollution exclusion was a source of significant litigation between insureds and insurers and lead to various interpretations by courts across the country. Some courts fell into a camp which accepted the insurance industry’s broad interpretation of the exclusion. Another group affords limited exclusion to damages when an undefined claim involved harm to the broader environment. Another group of courts found that the exclusion was ambiguous or required to be interpreted based on history of the exclusion and looked at the presentations of the insurance industry to the various insurance commissioners in the various states “Doer v. Mobil Oil Corporation,” 774 So.2d 119, 2000-0947, (La. 12/19/00). Knowing which state an environmental disaster is in and more importantly, what state law is going to apply to coverage, becomes very important and can be important in planning litigation as will be discussed below in some detail.
There are many types of insurance products today providing various types of coverage for environmental disasters. A review of all of the different products available is beyond the scope of this paper. Coverage ranges from limited coverage provided via endorsements to CGL policies to stand alone policy forms. Over the years, insureds have sought an expansion of coverage to avoid the gaps created by the pollution exclusions in CGL policies. In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of carriers providing environmental coverage products compared to the limited market of even five or six years ago. Based on work with brokers over the last year or so, it appears that there are around 30 different insurers now offering some form of environmental coverage. Coverage available for environmental claims is more readily available currently on a claims made basis; although occurrence based insurance is also sometimes available.
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently issued a major decision in favor of industry by reversing the rulings of a trial court and an appellate court that found plaintiffs in a toxic tort case were entitled to an award of punitive damages based on the application of another state’s law.
Kean Miller submitted an amicus brief…
Kean Miller LLP is pleased to announce the release of the ninth edition of the Practical Digest of Louisiana Class Action Decisions. The digest is produced by Charles S. McCowan, Jr., Bradley C. Myers, Gerald E. Meunier (Gainsburgh, Benjamin, David, Meunier & Warshauer), and Thomas F. Daley (District Attorney of the 40th Judicial…
In The Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan, et al. v. Banc of America Securities LLC, et al., 685 F.Supp.2d 456 (S.D.N.Y. 2010), Judge Scheindlin—author of the renowned Zubulake decisions—further develops the boundaries of discovery duties in a lengthy opinion. Although the opinion does not require parties to meet a standard of perfection during discovery, the opinion serves as an important guide that offers concrete rules and potentially burdensome standards that attorneys should heed to avoid sanction.
Writing systematically, Scheindlin initially frames the fundamental concepts underlying the nature and scope of a party’s duty to preserve, collect, review, and produce requested records during discovery:
The first [critical issue] is plaintiffs’ level of culpability-that is, was their conduct of discovery acceptable or was it negligent, grossly negligent, or willful. The second is the interplay between the duty to preserve evidence and the spoliation of evidence. The third is which party should bear the burden of proving that evidence has been lost or destroyed and the consequences resulting from that loss. And the fourth is the appropriate remedy for the harm caused by the spoliation. (1)
Electronic Discovery, or “E-Discovery”, is not considered the “novel issue” it once was. However, E-Discovery still presents problems that litigants and courts struggle with. Below is a summary of recent Louisiana Federal Court opinions dealing with the issues surrounding E-Discovery.
In Frees, Inc. v. McMillian, 2007 WL 184889 (W.D. La. Jan. 22, 2007), the Western District of Louisiana granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel. In an unfair competition and trade secret theft action, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant, a former employee, had stolen various data files. Plaintiff had unsuccessfully requested production of defendant’s laptop and desktop. The Court granted the motion to compel the defendant to produce these two items because they were the most likely places that the data files would be located. The Court did institute protective measures so as to prevent the disclosure of any irrelevant or personal information.
The United States Supreme Court recently resolved conflicts among the Circuit Courts about the citizenship of a corporation for determining diversity of citizenship jurisdiction (1). This will allow corporations to analyze with more predictable results whether to remove a case to federal court. In Hertz Corp. v. Friend, et al, No. 08-1107 (February 23, 2010) (a unanimous decision, which is unusual in and of itself), the Court decided that when determining a corporation’s citizenship for diversity of citizenship jurisdiction, the “principal place of business” of the corporation is “the place where the corporation’s high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities”—something that courts have referred to as the “nerve center” of the corporation.
Throughout 2004–2007 a housing boom along with a series of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico combined to create a shortage of drywall in the United States. Needing drywall to build the homes that were much in demand, suppliers turned abroad. Chinese manufacturers stepped in, providing cheap and readily available material. This influx of Chinese drywall was concentrated in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi; the states most affected by Hurricanes Wilma, Katrina, and Rita. Since 2006, it has been estimated by some sources that more than 550 million pounds of drywall have been imported from China. There are reports that some 100,000 homes could possibly be affected nationwide.