Umbrella Does Not Have Same Exclusion as Primary

Umbrella Does Not Have Same Exclusion as Primary

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Many companies find that a single policy of liability insurance is inadequate and purchase multiple layers or insurance. Many times the policies follow each other’s terms and conditions, but not always. Thermoflex Waukegan obtained several lawyers of coverage but did not require the terms and conditions of each policy to be the same.

In Thermoflex Waukegan, LLC v.  Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance USA, Inc., Nos. 23-1521, 23-1578, United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit (May 17, 2024) reviewed the trial court decision.

Thermoflex Waukegan required hourly workers to use hand prints to clock in and out. This led to a claim that doing so without workers’ written consent, and using a third party to process the data, violated the Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/1 to 14/20 (BIPA or the Act).

THE TRIAL COURT

The trial court concluded that an exclusion in the Basic policy renders it inapplicable to any claim based on the Act. The exclusion provides that the insurance does not apply to claims arising out of any access to or disclosure of any person’s or organization’s confidential or personal information, including patents, trade secrets, processing methods, customer lists, financial information, credit card information, health information or any other type of nonpublic information.

ANALYSIS

Thermoflex maintained that this policy is ambiguous because the exclusion mentions patents, which are public. True, the list contains mismatched items. But it can’t create ambiguity about either the opening phrase of the exclusion: “any person’s or organization’s confidential or personal information” or the catchall “any other type of nonpublic information.”

The Seventh Circuit found it was enough that the exclusion in this policy does not have a flaw.

DUTY TO DEFEND

The Excess and Umbrella policy, on the other hand, has two parts. Coverage U (for “Umbrella”) lacks an exclusion relating to nonpublic information. It does not matter what Coverage U includes; the parties agree that it covers BIPA claims unless something excludes coverage. The trial judge found that none of the three arguably applicable exclusions to Coverage U is so clear that it forecloses a duty to provide Thermoflex with a defense in the state-court suit.

The third exclusion, which the parties call the “ERP exclusion” (for “employment-related practices”) bars coverage of injury arising out of:  a) refusal to employ that person; b) termination of employment of that person; or c) coercion, demotion, evaluation, reassignment, discipline, defamation, harassment, humiliation, malicious prosecution, discrimination, sexual misconduct, or other employment-related practices, policies, acts, or omissions directed towards that person. Parts (a) and (b) of this exclusion don’t have anything to do with BIPA claims. Mitsui relied on part (c) contending that collecting and processing handprints to determine how much time an employee spends at work is an “employment-related practice”. The Seventh Circuit concluded that a general policy requiring all hourly workers to place their hands on a scanner is an employment-related practice but is not “directed towards” any given employee. It is just a term or condition of employment, and this exclusion taken as a whole is not concerned with the terms and conditions of employment so it does not prevent coverage for a defense.

The Umbrella policy provides for defense and indemnity only after underlying insurance (and deductibles, which the policies call self-insured retentions) has been exhausted.

Because Thermoflex has at least one other policy that applies to the BIPA claims the duty to defend does exist under the Umbrella does not begin until the limits of that policy (plus deductibles) have been exhausted.

With that proviso-which is part of the district court’s decision and judgment, Mitsui owes Thermoflex a defense under the Umbrella policy.

ZALMA OPINION

When primary or basic insurance policies provided limited coverages and an umbrella provides more expansive coverage, the duty to defend applies to the umbrella insurer once a primary or basic insurer expends its limits plus self-insured retentions. The decision eliminated coverage for some insurers and found a duty to defend exists for other coverages. To avoid such a result many insurers who write umbrella policies follow the basic insurer’s policy terms and conditions. Mitsui didn’t and must provide a defense under the umbrella policy.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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