In a recent insurance coverage lawsuit arising out of an underlying dispute over who was responsible for the lapse of a key man life insurance policy, a court determined that coverage for the attorneys’ fees a management consulting firm incurred in defending against the underlying claim was precluded by the failure to maintain insurance exclusion in the consulting firm’s professional liability insurance policy. Because coverage disputes involving a failure to maintain insurance exclusion are relatively rare, the court’s decision provides an opportunity to consider the exclusion and how it might affect the availability of coverage in certain claims situations.
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Over the last few days, I have published several posts looking back at 2017. In addition to looking back, this is also the time of year for looking forward as well. Among other things to watch out for this year is a series of D&O insurance coverage cases that are now pending in the appellate courts. In a January 9, 2018 article (here, subscription required), Law 360 author Jeff Sistrunk identifies three of these cases to watch this year. As discussed below, these cases not only are worth watching but could have important ramifications as well.
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Insurance policies are of course written documents, dependent upon standard conventions of grammar and usage in order to establish their meaning. A recent unpublished opinion from the Ninth Circuit wrestled with the grammar rules involved when an insurance application’s question and answer created a double negative. Even though a literal reading of the application question using the relevant grammar rules arguably establishes the applicant answered the question truthfully, a majority held that the overall context of the question established that the applicant did not answer the question truthfully, and therefore that the insurer was entitled to rescind the policy based on the application misrepresentation. The dissent disagreed, contending that in light of the application question’s actual wording, the applicant had completed the question truthfully, and therefore that the insurer was not entitled to rescission. The Ninth Circuit’s January 2, 2018 opinion in the case can be found here.
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A standard exclusion found in most private company directors and officers insurance policies precludes coverage for claims brought by one insured against another insured – the so-called Insured vs. Insured exclusion. The exclusion typically includes several coverage carve-backs preserving coverage for certain types of claims for which the exclusion would otherwise preclude coverage. One relatively standard coverage carve-back preserves coverage for claims brought by a former director or officer after the individual’s service to the company terminated. While the inclusion of this type of coverage carve-back is fairly standard, the wording of the carve-back can and sometimes does vary in ways that can significantly affect whether or not coverage is available for particular claims.

In a December 13, 2017 decision (here), Central District of California Dean D. Pregerson concluded that an underlying dispute between a former director and his former company did not fall within the coverage carve-back to the Insured vs. Insured exclusion in the company’s D&O insurance policy and therefore that there was no coverage under policy for the underlying claim. The decision highlights the importance of the specific language used in the coverage carve-back.
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As litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has proliferated in recent years, one of the recurring questions has been whether the defendants have insurance coverage for these kinds of claims. The insurance questions have in turn generated insurance coverage litigation, primarily with respect to the defendants’ CGL insurance policies, but also with respect to their D&O insurance policies as well. One closely watched recent case involved a D&O insurance dispute arising out of a TCPA claim against the Los Angeles Lakers. The district court had held that the Lakers’ D&O insurance policy did not cover the TCPA claim and the Lakers’ appealed. On August 23, 2017, in a decision that is sure to attract both attention and perhaps further skirmishing on these issues, a divided Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the district court’s holding, concluding that the invasion of privacy exclusion in the Lakers’ D&O insurance policy precluded coverage for the claim. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion can be found here.  
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The right of shareholders to demand inspection of companies’ books and records is of course nothing new. What is new is the increased frequency of books and records demands, often as a result of courts’ requirement for prospective shareholder claimants to investigate alleged misconduct of corporate executives before filing a lawsuit. The scope of the books and records requests is also expanding as well. These developments raise a number of D&O insurance coverage issues, which in turn has led to the rise of a variety of policy wording alternatives, as discussed in a recent paper.
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david_bergenfeld1In the current world, cyber security is critical for every organization. Cyber insurance is an important part of every organization’s cybersecurity program. In the following guest post, a Senior Associate in D’Amato & Lynch, LLP’s Fidelity Bond Practice Group, examines how business can best match their cyber insurance to their cyber security needs. I would like to thank David for his willingness to allow me to publish his article as a guest post. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is David’s guest post.
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Ninth CircuitDuring the bank failure wave that followed the global financial crisis, one of the recurring questions was whether or not the failed banks’ D&O insurance policies’ insured vs. insured exclusion precluded coverage for the FDIC’s liability claims as receiver for the failed bank against the banks’ former directors and officers . As I noted in a post late last year, the general consensus among the federal appellate courts is that the exclusion’s applicability to FDIC-R claims is ambiguous and therefore that the exclusion does not preclude coverage. As I also noted, however, there was an exception to this consensus, reflecting important wording differences sometimes found in the exclusion.

Consistent with this exception to the consensus, on January 10, 2017, the Ninth Circuit, applying California law, held in an unpublished opinion that the applicable D&O policy’s insured vs. insured exclusion was not ambiguous and precluded coverage for the FDIC’s claims against the former directors and officers of the failed Security Pacific bank. Unlike the exclusion found in many D&O insurance policies, the policy at issue in the Ninth Circuit’s case specifically precluded coverage for claims brought by any “successor” or “receiver.”  The Ninth Circuit’s opinion can be found here.
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delawareIn an August 27, 2015 post-trial opinion (discussed here), Delaware Vice-Chancellor Travis Laster found that Dole Foods CEO David Murdock, and the company’s General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, C. Michael Carter, had committed “fraud” in connection with a November 2013 “going private” transaction. However, according to a December 21, 2016 Delaware Superior Court decision in the subsequent insurance coverage litigation, because Laster’s findings of fraud were not part of the subsequent post-settlement final judgment in the case, the fraud exclusion in Dole’s D&O insurance program did not preclude coverage for the settlement. Anyone interested in understanding how the fraud exclusion in a D&O policy operates will want to read this opinion. A copy of the Delaware Superior Court opinion can be found here.

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David Bergenfeld

In the following guest post, David Bergenfeld, a Senior Associate in D’Amato & Lynch’s Fidelity Bond Practice Group, takes a look at the key judicial decisions during the third quarter of 2016 interpreting cyber and commercial crime insurance policies. I would like to thank David for allowing me to publish his article. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics of interest to this blog’s readers. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is David’s guest post.
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