D&O insurance policyholders sometimes bridle when the insurers take steps to try to rein in burgeoning defense expense. In that situation, the D&O insurers will often try to remind the policyholder that because defense expense erodes the limit of liability, it is in everyone’s interest for defense expense to be monitored closely. An unusual coverage action in the Western District of New York reversed the usual concerns about insurer defense cost control. The policyholder sued its D&O insurer for breach of contract, bad faith, and intentional infliction of emotional distress not for failing to pay defense costs or full defense costs, but rather for allowing the policyholder’s defense expenses incurred in an underlying criminal action to exhaust the applicable limit of liability. While it is hardly a surprise that a court concluded that an insurer that paid out its full limits cannot be held liable for breach of contract – much less bad faith or infliction of emotional distress –there are still a number of interesting aspects to this dispute and to the court’s ruling.  
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mississippiMost management liability insurance policies are written on a defense-costs-inside-the-limits basis, meaning that covered defense costs erode the limits of liability as the expenses are incurred. Though this is a well-established arrangement within the industry for this type of insurance, the erosion of limits by defense expenses sometimes comes as an unwelcome surprise to a policyholder, usually in the middle of a serious claim. A recent federal appellate case involved an effort by a community hospital system in Mississippi to try to argue that its expenses incurred in defending an underlying claim did not erode the limits of its management liability insurance policy.

In a March 1, 2017 opinion (here), the Fifth Circuit, applying Mississippi law, rejected the hospital system’s arguments and held that under the terms of the policy, the system’s expenses defending the underlying claim did erode the applicable policy limits. While the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion in that regard arguably is unremarkable, it does provide an opportunity to step back and consider the limits erosion feature of these kinds of policies.
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