Friday, February 2, 2018

Excess Insurer's Disclaimer 37 Days After First Notice Held Untimely as a Matter of Law

Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Navigators Ins. Co.
(1st Dept., 2/1/2018)

Review points from this decision:
  • Notice Requirement:  An insurer's duty to cover losses of its insured is not triggered unless the insured gives timely notice of loss in accordance with the terms of the insurance contract.

  • Additional Insured's Obligation to Give Timely Notice:  Even if an insurance policy were construed as specifying that only the named insured was required to provide notice of occurrences, demands and suits to the insurer, the duty to give reasonable notice as a condition of recovery is implied in all insurance contracts and is applicable to an additional insured.

  • Timeliness of Notice to Excess Carrier:  Where notice to an excess insurer carrier is at issue, the focus is on whether the insured reasonably should have known that the claim against it would likely exhaust its primary insurance coverage and trigger its excess coverage, and whether any delay between acquiring that knowledge and giving notice to the excess carrier was reasonable under the circumstances.
But even if the additional insured's (or its liability insurer's) notice to the excess carrier is untimely, that late notice can be excused, in effect, if the excess carrier fails to disclaim in a timely manner.  And a delay by the excess insurer (Navigators) of only 37 days in disclaiming based on late notice -- a coverage defense that presumably was readily apparent to the excess insurer at first notice and did not require investigation --  in this case was held to be untimely as a matter of law:
Here, we find that Liberty Mutual's November 17, 2010 letter was sufficient to provide notice of claim to Navigators. However, even if the June 2010 supplemental bill of particulars implicated Navigators' excess policy (see Nova Cas. Co. v Interstate Indem. Co., 42 Misc 3d 1229[A], 2014 NY Slip Op 50250[U] [Sup Ct, Kings County 2014]), and the notice was untimely, Navigators' disclaimer, issued 37 days later, was untimely as a matter of law (see e.g. Bovis Lend Lease LMB, Inc. v Royal Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 27 AD3d 84, 88-89 [1st Dept 2005]; West 16th St. Tenants Corp. v Public Serv. Mut. Ins. Co., 290 AD2d 278 [1st Dept 2002], lv denied 98 NY2d 605 [2002]).
Judgment against Navigators for $850,000 plus statutory interest and costs.  An expensive delay.

The First Department is especially strict with the obligation of New York liability insurers under New York Insurance Law § 3420(d)(2) to "disclaim liability or deny coverage for death or bodily injury arising out of a motor vehicle accident or any other type of accident occurring within this state ... as soon as is reasonably possible[.]"

Use it (quickly) or lose it.  The coverage defense based on policy exclusion or breach of policy condition, that is.  See this blog's ... and Sometimes the Bar Eats You post for other examples of  relatively short delays in disclaiming that were held to be untimely as a matter of law. 

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