The liability environment for directors and officers is always in a state of change, but 2019 was a particularly eventful year in the D&O liability arena, with important consequences for the D&O insurance marketplace. The past year’s many developments have significant implications for what may lie ahead in 2020 – and possibly for years to come, as well.  I have set out below the Top Ten D&O Stories of 2019, with a focus on the future implications.
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Earlier this year, in Marchand v. Barnhill, the Delaware Supreme Court underscored that boards that fail to establish oversight procedures for their company’s mission critical functions can be held liable for breach of their Caremark duties. In an October 1, 2019 decision in the Clovis Oncology Derivative Litigation, the Delaware Chancery Court provided further perspective on directors’ potential liability for breaches of the duty of oversight. The Chancery court held, citing Marchand,  that boards not only must be able to show that they have made good faith efforts to implement an oversight system, but that also that they monitor the system – particularly when a company operates in a highly regulated industry.  The Chancery Court’s October 1, 2019 decision in the Clovis Oncology Derivative Litigation can be found here.
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Under the Delaware Chancery Court decision in the Caremark case, directors can be liable for failures in their oversight duties – that is, their duties to monitor the company and its functions. Lawsuits alleging a violation of the duty of oversight are notoriously challenging for plaintiffs. However, in the recent Marchand v. Barnhill case, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Chancery Court’s dismissal of a Caremark liability case and allowed the case to proceed against the board of an ice cream manufacturer that experienced a deadly listeria outbreak. Caremark liability cases remain difficult to plead and prove, but the Marchand decision nevertheless has important implications for director liability for breaches of their duty of oversight.
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