contractual liability exclusion

A deceased small business owner’s widow sued the business’s two other co-owners for breach of fiduciary duty for failing to apply a life insurance payout to the company to buy out her deceased husband’s shares. The two co-owners submitted the claim to their company’s management liability insurer, which denied coverage for the claim, relying in part on the policy’s contractual liability exclusion. The two co-owners sued the insurer seeking coverage. The district court granted summary judgment for the insurer. On February 19, 2020, the Eighth Circuit, applying Kansas law, affirmed the district court in an opinion that, as discussed below, raises some interesting issues. The Eighth Circuit’s opinion can be found here.
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In a recent case in the Fifth Circuit, a retail merchant sought to establish that its D&O insurer was required to provide a defense to a data breach-related claim that had been brought against the merchant. The appellate court held that the trial court erred in granting the insurer’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and ruling that the policy’s contractual liability exclusion precluded coverage. The ruling, which suggests at least the possibility of coverage under the D&O policy for at least some of the claims against the merchant, raises a number of important issues, as discussed below. The Fifth Circuit’s June 25, 2018 opinion in the case can be found here. A July 11, 2018 memo from the Crowell & Moring law firm about the decision can be found here.
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The insurance available under a D&O insurance policy does not protect insured individuals for all of their activities; rather, the policy protects the individuals only for their actions undertaken in their capacities as officer or directors of the insured organization. The policy does not protect the individuals for actions undertaken in their personal capacity or for actions undertaken as a result of their involvement with entities other than the insured organization.

A recent decision out of the District of North Dakota and applying North Dakota law illustrates the coverage-determinative importance of the question of capacity. In an October 3, 2017 opinion (here), District of North Dakota Judge Daniel Hovland held that because the allegations against the individual who was seeking coverage did not involve alleged actions undertaken in an insured capacity, the individual was not entitled to coverage under the policy. The ruling underscores the importance of capacity issues and also highlights how challenging these issues can sometimes be when individuals are acting in multiple capacities.     
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Readers familiar with my background know that while I have spent the last ten years representing policyholders, I spent the first 25 years or so of my career on the insurer side of the aisle, first as a lawyer representing insurers and later as an insurer employee. Because of that long prior experience, I am generally able to see the insurer’s side of most issues, even when I am advocating on behalf of a policyholder. Though I generally can see where the insurer is coming from, there are two issues that I think the insurers regularly get wrong. Both of these issues arise in the context of private company D&O insurance. The first relates to the wording of the contractual liability exclusion. The second involves the wording of the professional liability exclusion. I discuss both of these issues below.
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eleventh cuircuit sealIn an unpublished October 5, 2015 opinion (here), the Eleventh Circuit, applying Florida law, held that a D&O insurance policy’s contractual liability exclusion precluded coverage for negligence claims asserted against persons insured under the policy. The contract exclusion was written with a broad “based upon, arising out of” preamble wording. As discussed below, the decision highlights concerns about the use of the broad preamble in D&O insurance policies’ contractual liability exclusion. An October 28, 2015 post on the Wiley Rein law firm’s Executive Summary Blog about the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling can be found here.
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