California Supreme Court Ruling Clarifies That the Notice-Prejudice Rule Is a Fundamental Public Policy That May Override Choice of Law Provisions
In Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Company, the California Supreme Court resolved two previously open questions in insurance law: (1) it concluded that the notice-prejudice rule is a fundamental public policy of California, and (2) it concluded that the notice-prejudice rule applies to consent provisions, but only in first-party policies.
This decision provides three primary lessons to insureds. First, when a first-party insurer cites a strict notice provision as a complete bar to coverage, a California policyholder should respond by citing the notice-prejudice rule, even if the policy selects the law of a state that does not follow the notice-prejudice rule. Second, the insured should do the same if a first-party insurer cites a consent provision as a basis to limit coverage for otherwise-covered expenses. In both cases, the notice-prejudice rule may override the choice of law provision and preserve coverage unless the insurer was actually and substantially prejudiced by the delayed notice/consent. Third, in the case of third-party policies, the insured should continue to promptly notify the insurer in the event of a claim and should seek consent before incurring otherwise-covered expenses. The insured should not rely on the notice-prejudice rule to potentially save coverage where it delays notice or fails to seek consent for expenses under a third-party policy.