Law360 (April 30, 2021, 7:00 PM EDT) -- A Pennsylvania federal judge on Friday appointed The Moskowitz Law Firm and Carlson Lynch LLP as co-lead counsel to represent policyholders in their multidistrict litigation against Erie Insurance Co. seeking coverage for COVID-19 business interruption losses.
In the order, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark R. Hornak asked Adam M. Moskowitz of The Moskowitz Law Firm and Kelly K. Iverson of Carlson Lynch to lead the plaintiffs in their fight for pandemic-related loss coverage against Erie. The judge also appointed George L. Stewart of Reed Smith LLP to be the policyholders' liaison counsel and look over administrative matters of the litigation.
Last December, a seven-member Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized in Pennsylvania more than a dozen cases alleging Erie has wrongfully refused to cover businesses' lost income due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
The panel granted a transfer petition filed last August by several groups of Erie policyholders and sent 13 COVID-19 coverage actions pending against the insurer across four states to Judge Hornak in Pittsburgh, where Erie is headquartered.
The JPML found that centralization will promote efficiency because the Erie policyholders' cases — which include both individual suits and putative class action complaints — raise common factual allegations that the insurer wrongfully denied their claims for financial losses due to government orders that required them to close or reduce operations.
In addition to the 13 suits identified in the August transfer petition, the JPML has been notified of at least 14 additional federal court cases against Erie that could also potentially be transferred to the MDL, according to court records.
In the Friday order, the court also set up a plaintiffs steering committee, appointing Richard Golomb of Golomb & Honik, John "Jack" Goodrich of Goodrich & Associates and William "Chip" F. Merlin of the Merlin Law Group to work together with Moskowitz, Iverson and Stewart to ensure the efficient management of the case.
Judge Hornak also granted Erie's request by allowing Adam J. Kaiser, Tiffany L. Powers and Kristin A. Shepard of Alston & Bird LLP to act as co-lead counsel for the carrier.
According to court records, Erie was the second insurer to face multidistrict litigation over its rejection of policyholders' claims for pandemic-related losses.
Last October, the JPML centralized more than 30 coverage suits against Society Insurance Co. before a federal judge in Chicago. At the same time, it refused to create MDLs for COVID-19 coverage actions pending against Travelers, The Hartford, Cincinnati Insurance Co. and underwriters at Lloyd's of London, all of which are facing many more cases than Society. The JPML declined in August to create a nationwide, industrywide MDL to centralize pandemic coverage cases against all insurance carriers.
Representatives for the parties could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.
The policyholders are represented by attorneys with Levin Sedran & Berman LLP, DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC, The Lanier Law Firm, Golomb & Honik PC, Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles PC, The Moskowitz Law Firm and Carlson Lynch LLP, among others.
Erie is represented by Adam J. Kaiser, Tiffany L. Powers and Kristin A. Shepard of Alston & Bird LLP.
The case is In Re: Erie COVID-19 Business Interruption Protection Insurance Litigation, MDL No. 2969, before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, and case number 1:21-mc-00001, in the U.S. District for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
--Editing by Bruce Goldman.
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