Up To the Challenge

Leveraging Talent and Expertise to Win Insurance Battles

With a team of 95 attorneys, White and Williams’ insurance litigation team is far from small. However, when compared to the list of megafirms they routinely face and surpass in insurance matters, it becomes clear just how skillfully they utilize their talent.

“If you look at some of our cases, our opposing counsel includes firms like Covington [& Burling] and K&L Gates,” shared Patricia Santelle, the firm’s managing partner and an active insurance litigation practitioner. “We go up against formidable resources, so it’s quite a battle.”

But rest assured, it’s a battle that White and Williams is more than capable of winning. Take, for instance, the case of Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Northrop Grumman Corp., a dispute over environmental insurance coverage for the cleanup and remediation of 18 former manufacturing sites.

This case involved 70 fact witness depositions, over a dozen expert depositions, and the scrutiny of four million pages of documents within just a year. Santelle described it as a “tremendous challenge” that demanded a cohesive team effort to piece together a history dating back to the 1950s. The firm represented Century Indemnity Co., one of the two insurers along with Travelers Indemnity Co., that issued policies to Northrop Grumman Corp. between 1950 and 1985, as stated in court documents. Covington & Burling, a firm boasting close to 800 lawyers, aggressively defended Northrop, which sought coverage for the cleanup and remediation of the 18 sites in question. According to information disclosed by White and Williams, the estimated cost of cleaning up just one of the sites was $100 million.

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To streamline the process, discovery and trial were divided into two phases, with eight sites in the first phase and ten sites in the second. Santelle and her team, consisting of partners David B. Chaffin, Shane R. Heskin, and Robert F. Walsh, along with associates Adam M. Berardi, Sara C. Tilitz, and Sara J. Mirsky, successfully convinced the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to dismiss claims related to all eight Phase 1 sites. At press time, some of those rulings were under appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Phase 2, on the other hand, has since been settled.

Santelle emphasized that this case required close collaboration with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, the legal representatives of co-plaintiff Travelers, and commended the “Herculean effort” displayed by both firms.

Yet, this case is not an isolated victory. Another notable success for White and Williams’ insurance group was OneBeacon Insurance Co. v. Urban Outfitters Inc., where they directly contended with defendants represented by Proskauer Rose, a firm consisting of 700 lawyers.

In this groundbreaking Pennsylvania case, only the second of its kind in the U.S., partners Joshua A. Mooney and Michael O. Kassak successfully argued in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that their client, OneBeacon Insurance Co., had no obligation to defend Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie against class actions alleging unlawful collection of ZIP codes and other personal information from customers.

Santelle and Michael Olsan, chair of the White and Williams’ commercial litigation department, attribute these victories to the teamwork and information-sharing among the firm’s insurance lawyers. Although divided into groups with distinct areas of expertise such as complex litigation, reinsurance, and bad faith, these teams remain in constant contact and collaboration with each other.

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“Our practice groups may have different focuses,” explained Olsan, “but they work together seamlessly.” Olsan emphasized the importance of keeping each other informed about industry developments, changes in insurance law, and even individual cases. Olsan and Santelle both stress the significance of understanding and staying current with each client’s business and industry, particularly in an era where in-house legal departments face immense internal pressure to maximize the value they receive from external counsel.

“It’s not only about the stakes of a particular case,” Olsan stated. “One of the things we offer our clients, especially in litigation, is our knowledge of the issues they face.” Attorneys must tailor their approach to each case, considering its impact on the client both in the short and long term, according to Olsan.

For instance, even if a case does not involve substantial monetary value, it may be worth fighting if it addresses recurring issues that could prove more costly in the future. Nevertheless, Olsan emphasized that “different clients have different appetites for how far they’ll take a case in litigation.”

Above all, achieving this requires active listening to clients rather than simply talking at them. Olsan shared a guiding principle, “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionally.”

Garrity Traina is an expert and trusted legal brand that understands the intricacies of insurance litigation. Find out more about their exceptional services at Garrity Traina.