Could Madoff-related losses be insured under a homowners’ insurance policy? That is what is claimed in a class action complaint filed on August 19, 2009 in the Southern District of New York by Robert and Harlene Horowitz against their homeowners’ insurer and related entities. Their complaint (which can be found here) alleges that the insurer denied coverage under its policy for the more than $8 million that the Horowitzes claim to have lost in the Madoff scandal.
The plaintiffs claim that their homeowners’ policy contains a so-called Fraud SafeGuard provision, which insures against the "loss of money, securities or other property … resulting from fraud, embezzlement or forgery perpetrated against [policyholders] or [policyholders’] family member[s] during the Policy Period."
The Horowitzes claim that they had a family trust account, of which Robert Horowitz was trustee, with Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. They claim that their final balance on the BMIS account was over $8.5 million.
The complaint alleges that when they submitted their claim seeking payment for their claimed losses (which they assert is the full $8.5 million amount), the insurer denied coverage "on several grounds, all of which are erroneous."
The complaint is filed as a class action on behalf of all the policyholders under the defendants’ homeowners’ insurance policies with coverage for Fraud SafeGuard events and that lost money in the Madoff scheme.
The complaint asserts claims for breach of contract; breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and unjust enrichment. The class action seeks compensatory damages as well as "declaratory and injunctive relief to end the Defendants’ improper practices."
Though the complaint alleges that the defendants’ have denied coverage entirely for the plaintiffs’ claimed loss, a significant portion of the complaint is devoted to the plaintiffs’ contention that they are entitled to recover the full amount of their claimed $8.5 million loss, and not just the (unspecified) amount of the initial investment. They claim entitlement to the supposed investment gains that the plaintiffs’ believed they had earned on the BMIS account.
The plaintiffs argue that their loss is "the amount shown on their last account statement," and that their loss "cannot be erased by Defendants’ ad-hoc, after the fact definition of covered loss." The plaintiffs argue that in any event, they are at least entitled to implied interest on the initial investment as well as non-recoverable tax payments that had been made based on the Madoff statements.
The complaint also recites and refutes the applicability of the long list of policy exclusions on which the insurer relied in denying coverage, including, for example, that the policy does not cover loss caused by "the confiscation, destruction or seizure of property by any government or public entity or their authorized representative"; and that the policy does not cover "indirect loss resulting from any fraud guard event, including, but not limited to, an inability to realize income that would have been realized had there been no loss or damage to money, securities or other property."
It is interesting that the complaint was filed by the Milberg law firm, which may not be the first firm you think of when you think of insurance coverage litigation -- but on the other hand over the years, the firm has been in the forefront of class action litigation (albeit usually in the securities context), which may explain in part the fact that the complaint was filed as a class action.
When I noted recently (here) the arrival of the Madoff coverage litigation, I predicted that there would be a great deal more litigation to come. But I never expected that the first class action coverage lawsuit would be based on homeowners’ coverage. For that matter, I have to confess that I didn’t foresee the involvement of homeowners’ coverage at all. But if the Horowitzes get any traction with their lawsuit, I suspect that we could see a whole lot more litigation raising similar allegations. There may be many more claims to come under other kinds of first-party coverages, as well.
The one thing I know for sure is that earlier this year, when various commentators were putting out their estimates on the likely aggregate insurance losses from the Madoff scandal, they did not factor in the possibility of losses under homeowners’ insurance policies.
In any event, I have added the new class action complaint to my register of Madoff-related litigation, which can be accessed here. The insurance coverage litigation of which I am aware so far is listed in Table V of the Madoff lawsuit register.
I continue to believe that there will be a great deal more Madoff-related insurance coverage litigation, and as I become aware of any new cases I will add them to the register. I hope readers who become aware of Madoff-related insurance coverage lawsuits will please let me know (anonymity protected upon request, of course).
Special thanks to a loyal reader for bringing the Howowitz lawsuit to my attention.