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Vol. 9 - Issue 4
May 31, 2020

 

Wash Hands For 20 Seconds, Sue For 20 Million

 

 

 


 

 

The number of lawsuits filed to date, arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, has been staggering. A May 1st story in The Washington Post reported that there had been 771 (according to a database compiled by law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth). And that was May 1. It's now June 1st. I just checked the Hunton firm's website for an update. Are you sitting down? 2,360. And they categorize them into about 15 categories.

Needless to say, the list is going to keep growing. Some of the suits will have insurance in play and some won't. For now, the Covid-19 insurance story has been all about business interruption. But claims under various liability policies are arising too.

We can expect to see some very unusual suits flowing from the pandemic. The extent of losses, unique aspects of the situation and that nobody saw it coming, will give rise to some interesting litigation. Not to mention that history teaches that all it takes to file a lawsuit in America is the filing fee and an imagination.

Your loyal humorist (??), Randy Spencer, has looked into his crystal ball and sees a peculiar Covid-19 lawsuit. And, of course, it has a coverage issue (of course). This issue of the "Open Mic" column takes a peek at litigation in the future.

Morgan Crystal is a well-regarded hand model in Walla Walla, Washington. She is in high-demand by producers of television commercials and ad agencies for print media. Morgan's long and gorgeous fingers have graced the pages of Vogue and Cosmo, showing off nail polish for the most exclusive makers of cosmetics. They have even appeared in a Super Bowl ad. Remember that commercial from Super Bowl XLVII, where a hand reached into a bowl of Doritos? Yep, that was Morgan's.

Morgan was very diligent about washing her hands during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. She washed them upwards of 25 times a day and always for the recommended 20 seconds. Morgan began to notice that her hands were becoming chapped. It started out not as a concern. After all, chapped hands is a temporary condition.

But Morgan's chapped hands were not healing. She tried ten different kinds of moisturizer and nothing worked. Finally, Morgan visited a doctor at the Mayo Clinic – considered the best hand specialist dermatologist in America. He usually has a four month wait for an appointment. But when he heard that legendary hand model Morgan Crystal wanted to see him, he made time.

Unfortunately for Morgan, she was diagnosed with a rare condition – dermatitispermanitis -- chapped hands that do not permanently heal. It is a condition estimated to afflict less than 20 people per year worldwide and caused by excessive hand washing.

Needless to say, Morgan was washed up as a hand model. You know where this is going. One month later Morgan filed suit against Walla Walla Water Works, seeking $20,000,000 for the lost income that she would have made as a hand model for the remainder of her career. Apparently, in-demand hand models make money over fist. WWWW supplied the water to Morgan's house and she sued, alleging that the company failed to warn her of the risks of excessive hand washing. She also sought punitive damages, alleging that WWWW knew for years that excessive hand washing could cause dermatitispermanitis and kept the information away from the public to protect its liquid assets.

WWWW sought coverage for Morgan's suit from its commercial general liability insurer – Fuji Mutual – a P&C insurer in Washington. At least for duty to defend purposes it was not a hard claim – "bodily injury" caused by an "occurrence." Fuji retained counsel and undertook WWWW's defense, subject to a reservation of rights, based on the "expected or intended" exclusion.

WWWW objected to Fuji's choice of counsel, citing the "expected or intended" exclusion as a basis for entitlement to independent counsel. Fuji, wanting to avoid turning on the spigot for WWWW's expensive personal counsel, withdrew its reservation and sent a letter to WWWW staying: You are not entitled to get your fingers on the defense. You no longer have any skin in the game. .            

 

That’s my time. I’m Randy Spencer. Contact Randy Spencer at

Randy.Spencer@coverageopinions.info
 
 
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