In Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Ins. Co. (No. S239510, filed 8/29/19), the California Supreme Court held that California’s notice-prejudice rule is a fundamental public policy in the insurance context, supporting the application of California law under a choice of laws analysis. In addition, the Court held that the rule generally applies to consent (aka “no voluntary payments”) provisions in first party insurance policies but not to consent provisions in third party liability policies.
Pitzer College discovered soils contamination while building a new dormitory. Under pressure to complete construction before the start of the school year, Pitzer proceeded to remediate the soils, incurring $2 million in expense. Pitzer submitted a claim to Indian Harbor, which provided Pitzer insurance covering legal and remediation expenses resulting from pollution conditions discovered during the policy period.
The policy contained a notice provision requiring Pitzer to provide oral or written notice of any pollution condition to Indian Harbor and, in the event of oral notice, to “furnish … a written report as soon as practicable.” In addition, a consent provision required Pitzer to obtain Indian Harbor’s written consent before incurring expenses, making payments, assuming obligations, and/or commencing remediation due to a pollution condition. The consent provision had an emergency exception for costs incurred “on an emergency basis where any delay … would cause injury to persons or damage to property or increase significantly the cost of responding to any [pollution condition],” in which case Pitzer was required to notify Indian Harbor “immediately thereafter.” Lastly, a choice of law provision stated that New York law governed all matters arising under the policy.
Reprinted courtesy of Christopher Kendrick, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP and Valerie A. Moore, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP
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