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Articles Posted in Business Insurance

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Recently, a Federal Court in North Carolina approved a settlement for over $3 million between a Coca-Cola (Defendant) bottling plant and a class of former employees. The named Plaintiffs brought the action against the Defendant alleging that the company had violated their fiduciary duties by presenting “risky” investment options to ERISA plan holders while additionally charging excessive fees. The Court held that the amount of the settlement was “fair, reasonable and adequate, taking into account the costs, risks and delay of litigation, trial and appeal.” Pursuant to this decision, the Court also ruled that the class presented by the Plaintiffs was appropriate for certification and includes all “participants and beneficiaries” under the plan in question. This totals around 13,000 individuals, according to a motion brought by the named Plaintiffs which is now moot after the Court’s certification of the class.

The details of the settlement agreement include statements that the Defendants denies any “wrongdoing or legal liability,” as well as the Defendants’ opinion that the group of 13,000 individuals was not appropriate for class certification. The specific wrongdoing alleged by the Plaintiffs is that the Defendants could have used their large size as a corporation in order to ensure that record-keeping and management fees were low for plan participants, which the failed to do. Additionally, Plaintiffs contend that the Defendants “imprudently” chose higher cost management services, though they had been presented with lower cost alternatives. According to the Plaintiffs, these decisions made by the corporation and its plan fiduciaries caused monetary losses into the millions.  Lastly, the Plaintiffs contend that coupled with the breach of fiduciary duties through the above-mentioned means, the Defendants also breached their duties through their failure to disclose information concerning the fees and “risks” of the investment options they had selected. Further, the Plaintiffs state that the Defendants did not make an effort to actively monitor those in charge of administering their ERISA plans, thus further acting imprudently and in violation of their duties to the participants.

Prior to this proceeding, the Defendants had moved to dismiss the case in early 2021, a request which was subsequently denied in March the same year. The Court ruled that the Plaintiffs had presented a case that should move past the initial pleading stage of the trial process, and thus dismissal would be inappropriate. The parties will now move forward with the settlement agreement, with the Plaintiffs now as a certified class.

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When a policy contains a “cost of making good provision,” is an insurer able to wholly deny coverage falling under its purview, even if it just applies to a small part of the claim? This question was recently brought to the Central District Court of California in The Haven at Ventura, LLC v. General Security Indemnity Company of Arizona, et al. In this case the Plaintiff, Ventura, brought suit against the Defendant, General Security, alleging an improper denial of benefits under a $69 million “builders risk policy.” The underlying circumstances giving rise to a claim for coverage in this action began in September of 2020, and concern mold damage to new, incomplete buildings on the Plaintiff’s property. After expert evaluation, it was determined that the buildings needed “detailed remediation,” a request for the cost of repairs subsequently filed with the Plaintiff’s insurer. During this period, the correction of the damage sustained caused the opening of the residential property to be delayed, thus resulting in additional financial damages to the Plaintiff. The claims brought by the Plaintiff under the builders risk policy included “faulty workmanship” and “excluded dampness of atmosphere.” Coverage was subsequently denied by the named Defendant and several other involved insurance providers.

The Plaintiff states that multiple attempts were made to avoid the process of litigation, but upon the inability to come to an agreement, they felt it necessary to file suit. The Plaintiff brought their claim against the Defendants for breach of contract and is asking the Court for upwards of $5 million as a result of the loss of income from their inability to collect rent during the period that the damaged buildings were undergoing repairs. An interesting aspect of this litigation is the novelty of the “cost of making good provision” at issue in the policy, as it is not yet as common in the United States as in foreign courts in Europe and Canada. This kind of provision essentially requires the insurer to cover the costs of making a covered property “good” or in other words, back to its original condition after damage as occurred. The Plaintiff’s argument relies on the intent and purpose of such a provision, and states that a complete denial of coverage is in opposition with the intended results of its inclusion in the policy. The Plaintiff further argues that in order to determine how the “make good” provision should be interpreted the Court should look to the example set by countries that have applied them for decades. The Plaintiff asserts that under this method of interpretation, their argument that the “make good” provision did not apply to the entirety of the claim and thus cannot be relied upon to deny the claim in full must prevail.

Counsel for the Plaintiff states that an argument blaming “damp atmosphere” for the mold damage is not based on adequate evidence, and thus the Defendants’ assertion that this was the underlying cause of the mold damage is incorrect. Further, the Plaintiff contends that the relevant provision applies to damages from “faulty workmanship” taking place directly adjacent to a loss, and not the kind of damages at issue in this circumstance, therefore the Defendant’s justification for denial under the “make good” provision is invalid. The Defendants have not yet responded to the allegations, though the next steps in this case will undoubtedly be cause for attention due to the novelty of the provision at issue.

Allstate Employees sue Allstate Corporation and their 401k plans, alleging breach of fiduciary duties. The suit is based on the alleged poor performance of investment selections and expenses incurred. The case involves investments in six of the Focus Funds. The suit includes allegations against the plan fiduciary duties to diversify the investments of the plan to minimize the risk of large losses. Allstate representatives claim that plan fiduciaries must engage with a balancing of risks and returns, which is a function of portfolio management.

The plaintiffs allege that the Northern Trust Funds “consistently underperform” against the Morgan Stanley funds, which has drastically understated the value of company retirement savings plans. Allstate currently is defending the lawsuit, calming that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking resolution through litigation. Allstate raises questions about whether their 401k committee and their 401k administrative committee acted as fiduciaries concerning the conduct of which the plaintiffs complain. The case also revolves in a central fashion around the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which the plaintiffs believe should have mandated Allstate to choose wiser and more lucrative investment options. Allstate, by contrast, believes that this case is a non-starter and is a matter of not losses, but complaints that there could have been more financial gain.

Mehr, Fairbanks & Peterson represent claimants in ERISA plans.

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Does your business interruption insurance cover losses from the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19?

Whether your claim is covered or not is likely dependent on the type of policy and the specific language in it. If you have a business that has been affected by closures, check your business owners policies to see what losses may be covered. While some policies don’t cover losses caused by viruses or bacteria, your particular policy could have coverage for overhead expenses and income loss. It’s also possible you have a coverage extension or endorsement that covers losses from communicable diseases, viruses, or actions taken by the government or civil authority.

If your business interruption claim has been denied or have questions about your coverage, contact an experienced insurance lawyer at Mehr, Fairbanks & Peterson at (800) 249-3731 for a free consultation, or click here to submit a request online to speak with an attorney.

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