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FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘policies’

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].

OSHA Developments Favorable for Employers

Posted on: October 24th, 2018

By: Amy Bender

Two recent OSHA developments signal good news for employers.

The first relates to the scope of OSHA inspections of an employer’s workplace. In a recent federal court case, after an employee of a poultry processing plant was injured at work, the employer reported the incident to OSHA as required. It also provided 3 years of its injury and illness (“OSHA 300”) logs and permitted OSHA to inspect the particular hazards relating to the injury. OSHA then sought a warrant to inspect the employer’s entire facility based on this information as well as the fact that poultry processing plants were included in OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Program, which had identified hazards of particular concern to that industry. After the warrant was issued, the employer objected. The court agreed with the employer and quashed the warrant, finding a lack of reasonable suspicion to support such a broad inspection and a lack of evidence that OSHA selected the employer for inspection applying neutral criteria. Although the permissible scope of an OSHA inspection will depend on the individual circumstances of each situation, this case can give employers some comfort that OSHA’s authority is not unfettered. The case may be read here: USA v. Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc., Case No. 16-17745  (11th Cir. Oct. 9, 2018).

The other development relates to OSHA’s stance on post-accident drug testing and workplace safety programs. As we previously reported here, OSHA published a final rule in 2016 prohibiting mandatory, across-the-board post-accident drug testing as being discriminatory against employees based on their injury or illness reporting and limited testing to situations where employee drug use was a likely factor in the incident. The final rule also required employers to develop employee injury and illness reporting requirements that meet certain criteria, including informing employees of their right to make such reports without fear of retaliation. The final rule left employers scrambling to revamp their long-standing and well-meaning policies and procedures relating to workplace safety. Fortunately, OSHA now has issued a memorandum clarifying that it does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing. Such programs are impermissible only to the extent they are intended to penalize employees for reporting a workplace injury or illness. The memorandum provides additional guidance on what will be considered acceptable reporting policies and drug-testing procedures. The memorandum is available here.

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

The Bad Faith Trap: Evidentiary Concerns In Defending “Failure To Settle” Claims

Posted on: October 19th, 2018

By: Phil Savrin

It is commonly known in our industry that even an insurer that has accepted coverage for a liability claim can nevertheless be exposed to liability beyond the limits of the policy if it fails to settle the claim. The reason for this rule is that an insurer’s contractual agreement to protect the insured’s financial interest extends to safeguarding the insured from a judgment outside the monetary coverages of the policies. Many courts hold that the insurer cannot “gamble” with the insured’s money, which it could be doing in circumstances where the liability exposure exceeds the limits of the policy. As with many such aspirations, however, the devil is in the details in terms of how the rule is applied.

The easy case is where the insured is clearly liable for the claim asserted and the damages clearly exceed the limits of the policy. In that circumstance, it is only a matter of time before a judgment is entered in excess of the limits of the policy. At the other end of the spectrum, where it is clear that the insured is not liable – or that the damages are clearly within the limits of the policy – the insurer is “gambling” with its own funds and should not be exposed to an extra-contractual claim. The challenging case falls between these two extremes, where a jury is not expected to find liability, or award damages exceeding the policy limits, but might do so.

However the insurer may have gotten there, if it is facing an extra-contractual claim then it is likely that the unanticipated has occurred. For this reason, clever (some might say crafty) attorneys may try to make the offer difficult to accept or may not provide full and complete information, with the goal of setting up the insurer for a bad faith claim down the road or gaining leverage during settlement discussions. This tactic may be employed particularly where the limits are woefully insufficient such that there is no other means of a financial recovery.

To counter these efforts, any demand for policy limits should be regarded as the time bomb that it is. If the decision is made not to accept the demand, an explanation should be provided as to why liability or damages are uncertain as well as coverage concerns that may need to be taken into consideration. If applicable, the response to a demand can include requests for evidence or witnesses to be produced for examination and leave open the possibility of further settlement discussions as the investigation proceeds. The letter should be prepared as though it is being presented to a jury, for that may be precisely its purpose; because hindsight is 20-20, being able to clearly reconstruct the “lay of the land” is critical to defending the reasonableness of the decision at the time it was made in these challenging situations.

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

Cyberrisks to Contractors and Securing Proper Coverage

Posted on: June 29th, 2018

By: Barry Brownstein

Increasingly sophisticated hackers have targeted personal and business data held by companies like Target Corp., Sony Corp., Equifax Inc. and Yahoo Inc. during the past decade. The construction industry is just as susceptible to these risks as any other industry.  As construction projects increase in size and there is more sharing of data related to buildings and projects, and as more of that sharing becomes electronic, cyberrisks increase as well.

Contractors and their business partners hold personal information about their clients and employees, and they are increasingly using more electronic means to exchange data and survey construction projects. A significant threat for companies in the construction industry comes from the open and increasingly connected network between those in charge of a project and their various subcontractors and business partners, who need swift and seamless access to plans and other sensitive data to do their part of the work.

Many companies in the construction industry assume that since they have policies that cover losses stemming from physical and property damage, any infiltration into their systems that result in the loss of access to sensitive information is covered by such insurance.  However, most commercial general liability policies carve out cyberthreats from coverage.  While contractors can still make claims under more traditional policies and may find that some of their losses are covered, relying solely on these protections may be dangerous and result in uncovered losses.

Specialized cyberinsurance can fill in the gaps left by commercial general liability policies that do not account for losses caused by damage to virtual information systems, and ensure that any damages, injuries or delay caused by downstream contractors or business partners are covered as well. Once policies are in place, contractors need to revisit them regularly to account for changes in the cyberthreat landscape as they relate to the construction industry.

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

Insuring Against Rule 68 Offers of Settlement

Posted on: June 28th, 2018

By: Matt Grattan

One tool defense lawyers in Georgia frequently use to induce settlements is an offer of settlement under O.C.G.A. 9-11-68.   Rule 68 allows either party to a tort action to serve a written offer to settle the claim, so long as the offer is made within a certain time and satisfies several other elements under the statute.  If a Rule 68 offer is properly made by a defendant and rejected, that code section allows a defendant to recover its post-rejection attorney’s fees and expenses from a plaintiff in the event the plaintiff does not recover at least 75% of the offered amount at trial.

It is easy to see how the fee-shifting provision in Rule 68 can provide defense attorneys with leverage during settlement negotiations.  Simply put, it forces plaintiffs to put some skin in the game.  Because paying the defendant’s attorney’s fees and costs can significantly reduce or even eliminate a plaintiffs’ award at trial (and in turn a plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees), plaintiffs may be more inclined to settle rather than face such risks at trial.

The fee-shifting benefit from Rule 68, however, could potentially be diminished by companies like LegalFeeGuard.   Established in Florida in 2012 to combat that state’s offer of settlement statute, LegalFeeGuard has recently started offering insurance policies in Georgia that cover attorney’s fees and costs under O.C.G.A. 9-11-68.  LegalFeeGuard offers no-deductible policies with limits as low as $10,000 and as high as $250,000.   Policies are triggered by a judgment in a bench trial or the return of a verdict in a jury trial, and are available to plaintiffs and defendants for a wide array of cases, including personal injury, breach of contract, and intentional torts.

What does the availability of fee-shifting insurance mean for defense lawyers and their clients?  LegalFeeGuard recently launched in Georgia (and the author is unaware of any other similar companies), so it is tough at this point to determine what kind of impact fee-shifting insurance will have on litigation in Georgia.  But this is certainly a development for lawyers to keep an eye on (particularly since LegalFeeGuard claims on its website to have sold over 1,000 policies in Florida) as such insurance may persuade more plaintiffs to roll the dice and take their case to trial knowing the downside risk of paying fees and costs is reduced, if not altogether eliminated.

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