The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed an insurance coverage question involving an excess insurer and an offshore injury. The Plaintiff was injured while working on a drillship in the Gulf of Mexico. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in 2011 pursuant to the Jones Act and general maritime law in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Later that year, his employer was named as a third party defendant. The employer filed cross claims against its primary insurer in 2012 and against its excess insurer 2014. The Jones Act employer eventually settled with the Plaintiff, but maintained its claims for reimbursement against its two insurers.
The excess insurer moved for summary judgment and argued the excess insurance policy excluded coverage. Specifically, the policy contained an exclusion for “any liability or expense arising out of the ownership, use or operation of drilling rigs, drilling barges, drilling tenders, platforms, flow lines, gathering stations and/or pipelines, but this exclusion shall not apply to craft serving the foregoing such as crew, supply, or utility boats, tenders, barges or tugs.” The District Court agreed the injury occurring on a drillship fell within this exclusion and dismissed the employer’s claim for reimbursement against the excess insurer. The employer appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
On appeal, the employer argued in part that the excess insurer waived coverage defenses by not raising them until 2014 and not issuing a reservation of right letter. Under Louisiana law, waiver occurs when there is 1) an existing right, 2) knowledge of its existence, and 3) an actual intention to relinquish it or conduct so inconsistent with the intent to enforce the right as to induce a reasonable belief that it has been relinquished. The Court found the excess insurer satisfied the first two elements by possessing the coverage defense and having knowledge of the accident as early as 2011. The employer argued that the excess insurer’s conduct of not raising the coverage defense for three years satisfied the third element and effectively waived the insurer’s right to assert a coverage defense. The Fifth Circuit determined that because the excess insurer was not made a party to the case until three years after the lawsuit being filed, there was no evidence that the excess insurer had assumed defense of the employer with the intention or conduct of eventually denying coverage. In other words, the insurer’s conduct prior to being brought into the lawsuit did not create a belief that it intended to waive the coverage defense, which was asserted in its initial filings. Thus, the excess insurer had not waived its right to lodge a coverage defense and the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the employer’s claim against its excess insurer.
Richard v. Dolphin Drilling