On August 29, 2019, in Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Company, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 6240, the California Supreme Court held that, in the insurance context, the common law “notice-prejudice” rule is a “fundamental public policy” of the State of California for purposes of choice of law analysis. Thus, even though the policy in Pitzer had a choice of law provision requiring application of New York law – which does not require an insurer to prove prejudice for late notice of claims under policies delivered outside of New York – that provision can be overridden by California’s public policy of requiring insurers to prove prejudice after late notice of a claim. The Supreme Court in Pitzer also held that the notice-prejudice rule “generally applies to consent provisions in the context of first party liability policy coverage,” but not to consent provisions in the third-party liability policy context.
The Pitzer case arose from a discovery of polluted soil at Pitzer College during a dormitory construction project. Facing pressure to finish the project by the start of the next school term, Pitzer officials took steps to remediate the polluted soil at a cost of $2 million. When Pitzer notified its insurer of the remediation, and made a claim for the attendant costs, the insurer “denied coverage based on Pitzer’s failure to give notice as soon as practicable and its failure to obtain [the insurer’s] consent before commencing the remediation process.” The Supreme Court observed that Pitzer did not inform its insurer of the remediation until “three months after it completed remediation and six months after it discovered the darkened soils.” In response to the denial of coverage, Pitzer sued the insurer in California state court, the insurer removed the action to federal court and the insurer moved for summary judgment “claiming that it had no obligation to indemnify Pitzer for remediation costs because Pitzer had violated the Policy’s notice and consent provisions.”
Reprinted courtesy of Timothy Carroll, White and Williams and Anthony Miscioscia, White and Williams
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