Beginning with the corporate scandals earlier in this decade and continuing with the more recent financial meltdown and Ponzi scheme revelations, these has been a widespread push toward corporate governance reform. In some European countries, these developments have been accompanied by the implementation of mechanisms to provide some form of relief to the victims of corporate misconduct.
These legal trends have in turn had a significant impact on the European D&O insurance marketplace, as discussed at length in the November 2009 Advisen report entitled "European D&O Insurance Market to Benefit from Governance and Legal Reforms" (here, $ required).
As discussed in the report, Europe has had its own share of accounting scandals, as a result of which "governments across Europe have passed laws requiring new disclosures, enhanced shareholder protections, and greater transparency." There have also been actual or proposed changes to litigation procedures, many of which represent moves toward the development of various forms of collective action. Though the progression of these changes varies by country, the "clear trend" is toward a "more collective-friendly civil legal system"
As a result of these developments (both the scandals and the legal reform), "the number of shareholder suits filed in European courts is substantially up."
In discussing this European litigation, the report uses its own terminology, and in particular, the report (apparently – the report does not expressly define the term as used in connection with the European litigation) uses the expression "securities suits" to describe both actions initiated by private litigants as well as regulatory enforcement actions.
With this specific use of the phrase "securities suits," the report states that since 2005, "32 large securities suits were filed in European courts against European companies." (The report does not specify what is meant by "large.") Of these 32 "large securities suits," 18 were filed in the first half of 2009 alone. In addition, of the 32, 29 were collective action suits. For cases settled since 2005, the average settlement per case was a "staggering" 117 euros ($155 million).
In addition, European companies have become increasingly susceptible to "securities suits," as the report uses that term, in U.S. courts as well. Claims against European companies doing business in the U.S., particularly those whose shares trade on U.S. securities exchanges, have "mushroomed" in recent years. The number of "securities suits" against European companies increased from 10 in 2005 to 37 in 2008, and to 23 in the first half of 2009.
Many of these "securities suits" against European companies in U.S. courts hare securities class action lawsuits – of the 113 "securities suits" filed against European companies in U.S. courts since 2005 (through mid-2009), 54 are securities class action lawsuits. The remainder of "securities suits" apparently includes enforcement actions, individual lawsuits and derivative actions.
The average settlement of "securities suits" against European companies in U.S. courts during the period 2005 through mid-2009 is 55 million euros ($78 million).
These litigation developments have amplified the risks to corporate directors and officers, and according to the report have affected the perceived need for D&O insurance as well. Most large European companies carry some amount of D&O insurance, although the "perceived level of D&O insurance coverage need varies among countries." Many small to mid-sized European public companies do not purchase D&O insurance at all. This relatively low penetration, together with the changing legal environment that could encourage more companies to purchase D&O insurance, represents a "once-in-a-lifetime growth potential" for D&O insurers.
The report estimates that the European D&O insurance market represents 2008 written premium of 1.37 euros ($2.0 billion), up from about 1.01 billion euros ($1.25 billion) in 2004. By contrast, the Advisen report estimates, the 2008 U.S. D&O insurance marketplace was worth about $6.8 billion.
The European market has grown in recent years at a compound between 2004 and 2008 of about 7.9 percent, but due to improved product take-up rather than to rate increases. The report projects that the European D&O insurance market is likely to continue to grow, though the growth is likely to vary from country to country, commensurate with the countries’ changing levels of legal reform.
The report contains a detailed overview of the specific legal developments in the U.K., German, Netherlands, Italy and France, and also includes summaries of legal developments in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The report is interesting and timely, and provides a thorough overview of European legal developments and the way they will impact the European D&O insurance marketplace.
My prior post on the development of collective action procedures in Europe and the contrast of these procedures with the U.S. class action system can be found here. My previous discussion of current D&O insurance issues in Germany can be found here. The state of securities litigation exposures for directors and officers of Japanese and Canadian companies, respectively, can be found here and here.