HCC Marks 70th Anniversary

Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, headquartered in Providence, R.I., marks its 70th anniversary this year in serving the legal needs of individual and corporate clients.

Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney was established in 1951 as a general practice law firm by three former presidents of the Rhode Island Bar Association during President Harry S. Truman’s administration.

Since that time, Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney has grown steadily, developing a broad range of practices in all phases of civil litigation, and remains one of the largest and most respected litigation firms in the region. In just the past decade, the firm has opened offices in Boston and Hartford.

The firm’s clients reflect a broad spectrum of American business interests, and they are also among the most sophisticated purchasers of legal services in the world. The firm’s success can be attributed to its longstanding professional excellence in advocating for employers, insurance carriers, self-insured corporations, third-party administrators, claims servicing agencies, and individuals.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney developed expertise in the insurance, trucking, construction, manufacturing, and retail industries, which remain core competencies today. Throughout its 70-year history, Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney has established new precedents that have not only benefited specific clients but also entire industries.

Like the firm’s founding partners—James Higgins, Joseph Cavanagh, and John Cooney—the lawyers at Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney have assumed leadership positions in organizations devoted to advancing substantive practice areas.

“As we celebrate this 70th anniversary, words cannot express our profound appreciation for the trust, loyalty, and support of our clients, many of whom we have represented for decades, and we look forward to many more years of dedicated service,” said James A. Ruggieri, Managing Partner.

January 21st, 2021|

Stephen P. Cooney Chairs “Appellate Practice in the R.I. Supreme Court”

HCC partner Stephen P. Cooney recently chaired an important continuing education program sponsored by the Defense Counsel of Rhode Island. Titled “Appellate Practice in the R.I. Supreme Court – Update, Pointers, Refresher,” this timely seminar reviewed key issues during the Court’s 2020 term.

The speakers also focused on the continuing challenges of the pandemic in shaping legal practice and offered insights into the approaches of the two new jurists who recently assumed the Supreme Court bench.

The seminar provided an invaluable exercise for both trial litigants and appellate practitioners alike. In preparing for the program, Stephen reviewed several significant decisions affecting the insurance industry, including the following.

  • Frazier v. Liberty Mutual, 229 A.3d 56 (R.I. 2020): The Court overruled a prior holding regarding R.I.G.L. § 27-7-2 that enabled a direct action to be brought against the insurer.
  • Nelson v. Allstate Insurance Co., 228 A.3d 983 (R.I. 2020): The exclusion provisions in an insurance policy were interpreted for the insurer’s benefit.
  • Banki v. Fine, 224 A.3d 88 (R.I. 2020): This case involved subject-matter jurisdiction plus judicial review of an agency appeal from the Department of Health.
  • Colpitts v. W.B. Mason, 227 A.3d 996 (R.I. 2020): The Court established standards for an employer-ordered drug test.
  • State v. Mulcahey, 219 A.3d 735 (R.I. 2019): In this case of first impression, the requirements for authenticating text messages were set.

A summary of these cases can be found here. For more information about these decisions or any related matter, please do not hesitate to contact Stephen Cooney.

January 20th, 2021|

J. David Freel Obtains Summary Judgment for National Insurance Company

HCC partner J. David Freel recently secured summary judgment in Rhode Island Superior Court in favor of a national insurance company. In the process, the case was dismissed at the pretrial stage forgoing protracted discovery and litigation.

David successfully argued that the policy’s criminal acts exclusion was clear and unambiguous, and excluded coverage based upon the undisputed facts of this case as a matter of law. As a result, the carrier owed the policyholder no duty to defend nor indemnify in connection with an underlying civil lawsuit.

In September 2014, the insured was confronted by a person with whom he had a prior feud. An altercation ensued. The insured proceeded to drive his vehicle at the other person, striking him, and causing serious bodily injury.

In the subsequent criminal case, the insured was convicted of “[d]riving so as to endanger, resulting in personal injury,” under Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-1.1, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

In September 2017, the person who was struck by the insured brought a civil action alleging that the insured negligently struck him with his vehicle. The insurer provided the insured with a defense under a full reservation of rights – preserving the right to deny the claim afterward. The insurer then brought the declaratory judgment action seeking to terminate any duty to defend and indemnify.

The automobile policy excluded from coverage “bodily injury or property damage which may reasonably be expected to result from the intentional or criminal acts of an insured person or which are in fact intended by an insured person.”

David argued, and the court agreed, that the bodily injury the claimant allegedly suffered was reasonably expected to result from the insured’s criminal act. Moreover, the court rejected opposing counsel’s arguments that the exclusion was ambiguous and should apply only to acts that are both intentional and criminal.

David Freel maintains an extensive insurance coverage practice and frequently defends insurance companies against actions for breach of contract and bad faith in the Rhode Island courts.

January 8th, 2021|

Peter E. Garvey: Pandemic Litigation Being Filed Locally and Nationally Against Insurance Carriers

Just this past week, one of the first pandemic-related lawsuits was filed in the State of Rhode Island. This local case is titled, Procaccianti Companies v. Zurich American. Procaccianti Companies is America’s sixth largest privately held hotel owner and developer, and its lawsuit has already garnered national attention in Law 360.

Procaccianti Companies brought suit against Zurich American for failing to cover losses incurred during statewide COVID-19 shutdown mandates. The company argued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island that the presence of the virus at its hotels triggered coverage under its $300 million policy. Law 360’s description of the hotelier’s claims against Zurich America can be found here.

Many similar lawsuits are also being filed across the country. The Connecticut Law Tribune reports that some 1,300 pandemic litigation matters have been brought against insurance carriers. To date, there have been about 85 state and federal court rulings nationwide, most favoring the insurance companies. However, no appellate court has addressed the issue, according to the publication. Even so, one recent federal court case in Florida is typical.

According to Law 360 a Florida federal judge dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit brought by a proposed class of Florida restaurants over business interruption insurance coverage stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic because the plaintiffs failed to allege any physical damage.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro granted the insurance carrier’s motion to dismiss and denied all pending motions, pointing to recent orders in state and federal courts finding that physical loss is needed to recover under policyholders’ all-risk commercial property insurance, Law 360 noted. The Florida case is El Novillo Restaurant et al. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London et al. The complete Law 360 article describing this Florida ruling can be found here.

Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney will continue to monitor court filings as well as the legal literature for pandemic litigation brought locally, regionally and nationally as many more cases are likely to arise and the possibility remains that results may vary.

For more information about pandemic-related litigation contact Peter E. Garvey at pgarvey@hcc-law.com or any of the other partners at the firm.

December 11th, 2020|

Important Workers’ Compensation Decision Rendered by the R.I. Supreme Court

On November 5, 2020, the Rhode Island Supreme Court reexamined the Exclusivity Provision of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act in Selby v. Baird.

The plaintiff suffered a serious injury while working as a foreman for a tree removal crew. He brought a workers’ compensation claim against Mulch-N-More and was awarded benefits. He then filed a separate negligence claim in Superior Court against Mike’s Professional Tree Service.

The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff was an employee of Mike’s Professional Tree Services, citing its dominion and operational control over the plaintiff. The fact that another company served an administrative function in providing the plaintiff with his paycheck and workers’ compensation benefits did not change that fact. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling in granting summary judgment and denied the negligence claim.

This case was on point with prior holdings. Even so, the Court’s latest decision may allow for a more expansive application of the Exclusive Remedy Doctrine in future tort actions.

If you have any questions whatsoever regarding this or any other workers’ compensation matter, please do not hesitate to contact either Sarah Wheeler (swheeler@hcc-law.com) or Peter Garvey (pgarvey@hcc-law.com).

A thorough explanation of the Court’s decision can be found in the Client Alert here.

November 23rd, 2020|