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Law360's Insurance Groups of the Year

In a year marked by large-scale insurance cases stemming from disasters both environmental and financial, five law firms stood out for the significant victories they scored for insurers and policyholders, making them Law360's Insurance Groups of 2010.

The winners aptly helped insurers and policyholders navigate the fallout from various catastrophes, ensuring that their clients felt as little of the impact as possible and helping to create important precedents that will reverberate throughout the insurance industry.

Law360's Insurance Groups of 2010 are Covington & Burling LLP, Dickstein Shapiro LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

In mid-November, Law360 solicited nominations from more than 300 law firms and received 25 submissions for insurance practice group of the year. A team of four editors selected the top five based on their significant wins in insurance lawsuits in 2010.

The top firms distinguished themselves over the past year by wracking up crucial victories for their clients in a host of coverage cases with underlying issues such as financial fraud, asbestos liabilities and historical wrongdoings, deploying their trial skills to sway judges and juries, overturn verdicts and lay the foundation for favorable settlements.

One of the winning firms persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to vacate a $35 million jury verdict against American International Group Inc.

The Second Circuit found that claims brought by rival insurance giant AXA Versicherung AG over an alleged fraud involving reinsurance contracts were time-barred and remanded the case to the district court for an entry of judgment in AIG's favor.

The firm also secured a dismissal with prejudice of a nationwide class action against AIG spinoff Chartis Insurance Group brought by investors in Bernard L. Madoff's Ponzi scheme who sought coverage to compensate them for the loss of fictitious profits when the truth about the fraudster's business came to light.

In a decision likely to impact all insurance claims arising out of the massive fraud, a judge ruled that the insurance company's policies excluded the false profits Madoff reported to investors.

On the policyholder side, one firm that earned a place on the list recovered more than $500 million in life insurance claims on behalf of Holocaust victims in 2010, after 13 years of hard work that involved not only extensive litigation touching on several matters of first impression but also state insurance department enforcement actions and even the passage of state statutes.

The firm was also able to defeat a motion for reconsideration and defend a victory that marked only the second time in its 60-year history that nuclear liability insurer American Nuclear Insurers lost to a policyholder in litigation.

In the original victory, a district court ruled that the nuclear insurance industry's standard pollution exclusion was unenforceable as a matter of law because policyholders were not notified that the insurer's intent was to eliminate their existing coverage for environmental cleanup costs.

Denying the reconsideration motion in 2010, the same court reiterated that it was clear from the record in the case that ANI had failed to provide any clear explanation of the intended reduction of coverage to its insureds.

Another firm that made the list helped San Diego Gas & Electric Co. obtain $1 billion from its insurers when it was sued by more than 15,000 homeowners and a group of insurers after California state officials blamed its power lines for sparking three destructive wildfires.

The firm also had two substantial victories before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2010, in one instance convincing the court to affirm a $48.5 million jury verdict it had won on behalf of Sempra Energy and in another case scoring a ruling that its client UMG Recording was not bound by an arbitration clause in a case against its insurer, American Home Assurance Co.

The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declined to hear American Home Assurance Co.'s appeal of that decision.

These are just some of the many accomplishments of the five winners in 2010, and over the next week, Law360 will go in-depth on what makes each of the firms successful.