As reflected in detail below, noted D&O maven Dan Bailey of the Bailey & Cavalieri law firm has submitted the following guest blog post in response to an earlier guest post on this site. I would like to thank Dan for his willingness to have his comments published here. Dan’s guest blog post is as follows:
Kevin,I am responding to thearticle in your November 15, 2010 blog by John Iole at Jones Day regarding the "no broader than underlying" provision in virtually all excess D&O policy forms. I normally do not comment on articles which I think are misguided since conducting a public debate often elevates the visibility of the article and usually accomplishes little. However, in this instance it appears that John’s article has resulted in a number of brokers requesting the deletion of the "no broader than underlying" provision from excess D&O policies without fully appreciating the issues involved and the importance of that provision.
As summarized below, I think John’s article overstates the alleged concerns with such a provision and ignores the purpose and value of such a provision. Here is a brief summary of many of my concerns about the article.
- Purpose of Provision
The primary purpose of this provision in excess policies is to avoid an excess insurer covering loss which is not covered under an underlying policy and thus to avoid the risk the excess policy would drop down in that situation. Excess policies typically state that liability attaches to the excess policy only if and when the underlying insurers and/or the Insureds pay loss which is covered under the underlying policies in an amount equal to the Underlying Limit.
If the excess policy covers a loss not covered by the underlying policies, the Underlying Limit presumably would never be depleted by such loss since such loss is not covered by the underlying policies. In that event, a literal reading of the excess policy’s attachment provision would result in liability never attaching to the excess policy for such loss even though such loss is otherwise covered under the excess policy.
That nonsensical result could cause a Court to conclude the excess insurer must pay the loss notwithstanding the fact that the Underlying Limit has not be exhausted as required by the attachment provision in the excess policy. In other words, there would be a risk that the excess policy would be forced to drop down and pay that loss at a much lower level within the insurance program than the excess insurer intended. Such a result would violate the intent of the parties and force the excess insurer to incur far greater loss exposure than was reflected by the excess insurer’s pricing and underwriting analysis.
Other purposes of this provision include (i) allowing the excess insurer (which is receiving substantially less premium that the underlying insurers) to rely on the underwriting analysis of underlying insurers (i.e. if an underlying insurer identifies and excludes an unacceptable risk, the excess insurer gets the benefit of that analysis), and (ii) providing assurance to the excess insurer that all of the underlying insurers will be actively involved in monitoring and adjusting any claim covered under the excess policy. Those purposes would obviously be lost if the provision is deleted from the excess policy.
Therefore, this provision is important in order to preserve the integrity of the excess program structure and in order to avoid an excess insurer paying more losses than the excess insurer intended or contractually agreed to pay.
- Concerns with Provision
John’s article identifies several purported problems or concerns with this very standard provision, each of which are addressed below. It is important to note, though, that the article fails to even identify – much less address – the very important purposes and value of the provision from the excess insurers’ perspective. Plus, one should note that although this provision has been in virtually all excess D&O policy forms for decades, virtually no caselaw exists with respect to the meaning and applicability of this provision, thus indicating that in practice the provision does not create the controversies touted in the article.
- The article states that the provision allows the excess insurer to "pick and choose" among various underlying policy terms in defining the coverage afforded by the excess policy. That is simply incorrect. The provision is clear and absolute – if a loss is not covered under an underlying policy, that loss is not covered under the excess policy. There is no discretion involved, and the excess insurer cannot and need not "pick and choose" which provisions in the underlying policies the excess insurer does or does not want to adopt. The article cites to several examples of situations where this discretion could purportedly exist. However, those examples (e.g. different arbitration provisions in different underlying policies) are not valid examples since they deal with different procedural provisions in the underlying policies. The "no broader" provision only applies to the scope of coverage (i.e. is a loss covered or not) and does not apply to other procedural provisions, such as the notice, claims participation, cooperation, ADR, etc. provisions.
- The article states that this provision creates a "bewildering patchwork of coverage arguments". That is simply incorrect. Actually, the provision creates greater consistency within an insurance program by better aligning the scope of coverage among different policies within the program. By including this provision in all the excess policies, all of the excess polices will provide more consistent coverage throughout the program. It is only if the provision is deleted will the "bewildering patchwork of coverage arguments" be increased since there would be a higher likelihood that each policy within the program will have a different scope of coverage.
- The article states that the provision can create the risk that different insurers could apply inconsistent interpretations to the same term in an underlying policy. But that risk exists with or without this "no broader" provision. Even if the provision is deleted, the excess policies follow the terms of the Primary Policy and thus there is a risk the primary insurer may interpret a term of the Primary Policy differently than an excess insurer may interpret that provision.
- The article questions what does "broader coverage" mean for purposes of this provision. That is answered simply: is loss otherwise covered under the excess policy but not covered under the underlying policy?
- The article states that one cannot determine if coverage is broader until the loss is incurred. That is correct in many instances, but that dynamic is not due to the "no broader" provision. Under any policy, coverage typically cannot be determined until the loss is incurred, and deleting the "no broader" provision will not change that result.
In summary, the stated concerns regarding this provision are either not valid or not material, particularly when compared with the compelling purpose and value of this provision.The provision has survived the test of time over several decades without creating undue problems for Insureds while accomplishing some important benefits to excess insurers. Therefore, on balance I think the provision should be retained in excess policies.
Once Again, I would like to thank Dan for his willingness to have his comments published here. The D&O Diary welcomes guest blog post submissions from responsible commentators. Please contact me if you think you might be interested in submitting a guest blog post.