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Posts Tagged ‘claims’

A Slow Moving Storm is Brewing: Attorneys Should Expect an Uptick in Malpractice Claims, Just Not Right Away

Posted on: May 22nd, 2020

By: Anastasia Osbrink

Many attorneys are wondering whether to expect an increase in legal malpractice claims when courts – and society at large – begin to reopen. Such an increase would follow the pattern seen with previous economic declines. For instance, after the 2008 Great Recession, there was a significant increase in legal malpractice claims. However, it took a year for those claims to reach their peak in 2009. That is because the claims against attorneys followed an initial increase in other insurance claims. The number of claims in the five most likely areas for legal malpractice suits – personal injury, real estate, family, bankruptcy and estate law – nearly doubled between 2005 and 2009. Of course, such an increase can be expected during an economic downturn.

In the case of attorneys, following the initial wave of legal filings, the number of legal malpractice claims jumped as well in 2009. A similar increase in malpractice claims occurred in 2012 following the downturn caused by the European debt crisis and the downgrading of America’s credit rating in 2011. Again, the increase in malpractice claims occurred approximately one year after the peak of other types of filings had taken place.

This time, the increase in lawsuits in general likely will take even longer. Courts are reopening slowly, deadlines have been and likely will continue to be extended, statutes of limitations are being tolled, and there will be a significant backlog for the courts. Additionally, the disease itself likely has discouraged many people from going out and finding an attorney. Eventually, though, as people feel the devastating economic effects of the largest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, they will turn to litigation and the hope of a settlement or a large verdict to ease their financial pain. When this happens, legal malpractice suits may follow, as they did in 2009 and 2012.

Yet another factor likely will lead to an increase in malpractice suits that is unique to the pandemic. Even though courts are closed and many jurisdictions have been extending filing deadlines and tolling statutes of limitations, attorneys cannot simply assume that all cases are on hold. Indeed, as is typical, how and when a case is litigated must be evaluated on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction and case by case basis. An attorney’s failure to do his or her due diligence easily could lead to one or more claims of legal malpractice (though it remains to be seen how lenient courts will be to parties that missed deadlines during the pandemic).

Given this potential paradigm, it is essential that attorneys keep track of the rules and approaches by all courts in all jurisdictions in which they practice. Nevertheless, history suggests that we can expect an increase in the number of legal malpractice claims filed, even if it takes a year or two to get there.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Anastasia Osbrink at [email protected].

Law Firms Under Increased Pressure, Increased Costs for Malpractice Claims

Posted on: October 31st, 2019

By: Gregory L. Blueford

Per a survey conducted by insurance broker Ames & Gough earlier this year, professional liability is becoming more and more expensive with big money payouts. In its 9th annual survey of top 11 professional liability insurance companies, Ames & Gough found that the number of claims resulting in multimillion dollar payouts increased from 2017 to 2018, with the majority stating that they had at least one claim payout of over $150 million and two had settlements which exceed $250 million.

The average cost to defend a malpractice claim, while varied amongst those insurance companies surveyed, increased from 2017 to 2018 for 10 of the 11 insurers surveyed. Two indicated the average cost to defend a claim exceeded $500,000; three stated their average defense costs were between $100,000 and $500,000, and the remaining six insurers all had an average cost between $50,000 – $100,000. 7 of 11 insurers said that the rates they are paying defense counsel to handle professional liability claims have risen from anywhere from 2 – 5%.

Further, conflicts of interest, including perceived conflicts, remain the most common alleged legal malpractice error, with 7 of the 11 insurers surveyed stating conflicts as one of their top two leading causes of legal malpractice claims. The largest number of claims stem from the following four practice areas: Business Transactions (cited by 63 percent of insurers surveyed), Trust and Estates (55 percent), Corporate & Securities (45 percent), and Real Estate (45 percent).

This survey demonstrates the importance of law firms ensuring that their conflict check system is functional and, most of all, practical in identifying potential conflicts, especially for large firms operating with multiple offices. Further, as stated in the survey, many attorneys handling business transaction matters often wander outside their area of expertise, as certain elements may appear quite different as the matter progresses. Thus, it is important for attorneys to make sure they are staying within their defined role for the particular matter they are working on and, if the issues stray outside that role, work with the client to bring in another attorney who has the necessary expertise.

The insurers participating in the Ames & Gough survey were: AXA XL, AXIS, Brit, CNA, Crum & Forster, Huntersure, Liberty, Markel, Sompo, Swiss Re, and Travelers.

You can read more about this survey or request a copy of the survey here.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Blueford at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

The Effects of the California Wildfires Continue

Posted on: January 7th, 2019

By: Matthew Jones

The California Insurance Commissioner recently issued a press release regarding the extensive insured losses from the numerous California wildfires. Those losses total over $9 billion, and are even expected to rise. The losses span across various lines of insurance coverage, including commercial, residential, personal and commercial vehicles, and agricultural, to name a few. In light of the substantial losses and long process toward recovery, the Commissioner issued a notice to all insurers asking them to expedite claims and issuing checks immediately for four months of out-of-pocket costs. This notice also requested that the insurers help out the policyholders as much as possible in being lenient regarding document production, which will likely be difficult for policyholders given the damages sustained. The Commissioner also issued a “declaration of emergency” to allow insurers to obtain help from out-of-state claims adjusters in order to deal with the high volume of claims. However, these out-of-state adjusters must be educated and versed in California consumer protection laws, which are much more stringent than other states.

So in a time of heartbreak and sorrow, the Commissioner is coming to the rescue to help ease the insurance claim process and help the thousands of victims get back on their feet. However, despite these efforts, extensive litigation is likely to come from these tragic events as homeowners try to make themselves whole again.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Matthew Jones at [email protected].

Limitations On Directors & Officers’ Liability Coverage

Posted on: December 20th, 2018

By: David Molinari

Directors and Officers (D&O) Liability Insurance is insurance coverage intended to protect individuals from personal losses if they are sued as a result of serving as a Director or Officer of a business or other type of organization. Directors and Officers policies may also cover legal fees and other costs the organization may incur as a result of such a lawsuit. Directors and Officers Liability Insurance applies to anyone who serves as a Director or Officer of a for-profit business or a non-profit organization. D&O policies can take on different forms depending on the nature of the organization and the risk organizations face. D&O Insurance is a specialized form of coverage for claims based on acts committed in corporate capacities; and the corporation obligation to indemnify its Directors and Officers for such claims.

The availability of such insurance is an important factor recruiting or attracting persons to serve as Directors and Officers of corporations. So important that such insurance is provided by statute.  In California, California Corporation Code Section 317 allows for a corporation to purchase and maintain insurance on behalf of any agent of the corporation against any liability asserted against or incurred by the agent in their official capacity; or arising out of the agent’s status, whether or not the corporation would have the power to indemnify the agent against the liability. However, the existence of Directors and Officers coverage has limits. California Corporation Code permits a corporation to purchase Directors and Officers Insurance, it does not require an entity to do so.  The Corporation Code does not authorize an insurance company to cover a risk that it could not or does not lawfully cover. A Directors and Officers Liability policy is not an incentive for leaders of a business to increase risky behavior or an incentive to adopt aggressive negotiation strategies, policies or interpretations or their contracts and arrangements in the belief that if their actions are rejected by the courts, the insurance company will pick up the tab.

One distinction where coverage is unavailable; yet individuals in positions of management, decision and control mistakenly believe they are covered, is in situations where the loss arises from nothing more than a breach of contract the corporation entered. Directors and Officers liability policies are seen as safety nets affording management the ability to shift risk for unsuccessful business decisions and deals to an insurance carrier.

Directors and Officers policies typically exclude coverage for breach of contract. The policies generally limit coverage to liability that arises from errors committed in the officers’ or directors’ official capacity.  This limitation effectively excludes contract liability because an officer acting in their official capacity cannot be held individually liable for breach of a corporate contract. The limitation protects against making an insurer an unwitting investor in a corporation’s dealings.

Often directors or officers seek coverage of claims by focusing upon broad language in policies that define a “loss” but ignore the conditions on how that loss arose. Under Directors and Officers policies, the issue is whether the loss resulted from a wrongful act. Policies only cover losses resulting from wrongful acts, whether actually committed or merely alleged. Suffering a loss does not include judicial enforcement of contractual obligations. An officer or directors’ decision to refuse to make payments under a contract because of a dispute with the contracting party does not give rise to a loss caused by a wrongful act. Even though an officer or director’s actions in precipitating the breach may have been careless, such a loss is not covered by a policy. If that were the case, any default arising from a mistaken assumption regarding a company’s contractual liability could transform a contract debt into an insured event. Refusing to pay a debt, even in reliance upon erroneous advice of counsel, would convert a contractual obligation into damage arising from a negligent omission. That result would make the insurance company a defacto party to a corporate contract and potentially require a carrier to pay a full contract price, with interest while letting the corporation completely off the hook for its voluntarily assumed obligations.

No insurer reasonably expects the benefits of a professional liability policy are available to cover a contract price for a business deal gone wrong.  Such expectations would expand the scope of an insurer’s liability enormously and unpredictably, creating a moral hazard problem by encouraging corporations to risk breaching their contractual obligations believing in the event of a suit, the D&O carrier would ultimately be responsible for paying the debt.

Recruiting qualified individuals into directors and officers positions in for-profit and non-profit organizations often requires additional benefits to entice acceptance of added responsibilities in corporate governance and decision making. In the non-profit realm, often individuals are volunteers, so additional benefits are often thought to be needed to recruit and fill these positions.  Directors and Officers Liability policies offer enticement and protection for assuming increased responsibilities. Yet, the existence of director and officer liability policies and the protections they afford should not encourage the opportunity to take greater risks in negotiations or contracting. Adopting a risky business strategy should not be undertaken in the misbelief that if the business deal goes wrong, insurance benefits are available to protect against the loss.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Molinari at [email protected].

Georgia Supreme Court Expands Diminution in Value Analysis to All Property Damage Claims

Posted on: July 9th, 2012

By: Seth Kirby

For the last decade, Georgia auto insurers have been required to compensate accident victims for the inherent loss in value that a car suffers when it has been in an accident.  This loss is known as diminution in value.  Essentially, it is a recognition that a car that has been in an accident, even if it has been expertly repaired, suffers from a stigma that will affect its value on resale.  Georgia courts determined that the law requires an accident victim to be made whole, so it was not sufficient to simply pay for the repairs necessitated by an accident. 

In the context of an automobile, the logic of this rule is easy to understand.  If presented with two used cars that were identical in features, mileage and overall condition, but one had previously been in an accident while the other had not, any rational consumer would purchase the pristine car.  The only way to overcome this damage stigma, would be a reduction in price for the repaired vehicle. 

In Royal Capital Development LLC, v. Maryland Casualty Company, The Georgia Supreme Court recently announced that diminution in value must be considered in the adjustment of all property damage claims.  As a result, insurers must now conduct an analysis to determine whether any type of property damage results in a stigma to the property which would require compensation in addition to repair costs to make the property owner whole. 

Unlike automobiles, it does not appear that every property damage claim will result in additional compensation for diminution in value.  For instance, hail damage that results in the total replacement of a 20-year-old roof should be viewed as a benefit to the insured as the roof was nearing the end of its normal life.  In contrast, however, water or fire damage repairs could conceivably create a stigma that negatively impacts the value of the property.  In any event, Royal Capital presents a significant new requirement in the adjustment of property claims.