Professional Services Exclusion

GaRegular readers know that one of my hobby-horse issues is the way that some D&O insurers try to deny coverage for claims in reliance on an overbroad assertion of the professional services exclusion typically found in most private company D&O insurance policies. A D&O insurer’s sweeping assertion of exclusion’s preclusive affect can be a particular challenging for companies in services industries, because just about everything a services company does involves its services. When applied this way, the professional services exclusion exerts a preclusive reach that potentially could operate to swallow up the coverage available under the policy.

A recent decision from the Northern District of Georgia addressed these issues in a coverage dispute in which a private company D&O insurer had relied on the professional services exclusion to deny coverage for an underlying claim against a real estate listing Service Company. The Court concluded in its opinion granting the policyholder’s motion for summary judgment that because the underlying claim did not claims relate to the real estate listing service company’s “specialized knowledge,” the professional services exclusion did not apply. A copy of the March 22, 2016 opinion in the case can be found here. A May 26, 2016 memo from the Phelps Dunbar law firm about the decision can be found here.
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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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dcctofappealsThe problems that can arise from the wording of the professional services exclusion in a service company’s D&O insurance policy are perennial issues and a recurring topic on this blog (see for example here). When the exclusion in a service company’s management liability policy is interpreted broadly the exclusion can sweep so extensively that it can preclude coverage for the very types of claims the management liability policy was intended to insure. A recent decision from the District of Columbia’s highest court highlights these concerns.

In a February 11, 2016 District of Columbia Court of Appeals decision (here), the appellate court, applying District of Columbia law, reversed a lower court ruling that the professional services exclusion in the management  liability insurance policy of defunct Carlyle Management LLC precluded coverage for the various claims that had been asserted against Carlyle, related entities, and its senior officials. The Court of Appeals did not affirmatively conclude that the underlying claims were covered; rather, it held only that the broadly worded professional liability exclusion was ambiguous, and that the question of coverage is properly a question for a factfinder. While the appellate court did not affirmatively find coverage, the court’s opinion underscores the concerns with interpreting and applying the professional liability exclusion in a service firm’s management liability insurance policy too broadly.
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ninth circuitThe problems that can arise from the wording of the professional services exclusion in the D&O insurance policy of a service company are perennial issues and a recurring topic on this blog (see most recently here). In an unpublished August 18, 2015 opinion (here), the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that coverage for a claim under a payroll services firm’s management liability insurance policy was precluded by the policy’s professional services exclusion. While the preclusion of coverage under the professional services exclusion in services firms’  D&O policies often can be questionable, this instance seems like a situation where the exclusion was applicable. As discussed below, however, there are still some important lessons from this case.
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floridaIn a recent post (here), I discussed a recent federal district court ruling in which the court broadly interpreted the professional services exclusion in a bank’s D&O insurance policy in order to preclude coverage under the policy for a claim that had been made against the bank and certain of its directors and officers in a case arising out of the long-running Rothstein Ponzi scheme scandal. Southern District of Florida Kathleen M. Williams’s May 2015 opinion in the case, which I discussed in that earlier post, can be found here. As I noted in my earlier post, the case presents an example of the problems that can arise when a professional services firm’s D&O insurance policy contains a professional services exclusion with the  broad “arising out of, based upon, or attributable to” preamble language.

As discussed below, a recent law firm memo analyzing the court’s ruling called Judge Williams’s expansive reading of the language “troubling” and expressed the concern that the breadth of the court’s reading of the exclusion’s preclusive effect could render the D&O insurance policy’s coverage “largely illusory.”
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floridaIn a coverage dispute arising out of the long-running Rothstein Ponzi scheme scandal, a Southern District of Florida judge, applying Florida law, has held that the professional services exclusion in the Rothstein bank’s D&O insurance policy precluded coverage for claims brought against the bank and certain of its directors and officers by the Rothstein

dcOn May 15, 2014, in an interesting decision illustrating how complex insurance contract wordings can interact to produce outcomes policyholders may not have expected or intended, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg held that as worded a broad professional services exclusion in The Carlyle Group’s management liability insurance policy precluded coverage for

rhode islandWell-advised professional services firms will carry both errors and omissions insurance and management liability insurance. A recurring problem under management liability insurance policies for all types of professional services firms relates to the very broad professional services exclusions often found in these polices. These exclusions preclude coverage for claims relating to the professional services firm’s

On November 21, 2013, in a terse, two-page summary order (here), the Second Circuit affirmed a district court ruling applying New York law and holding that a D&O insurance policy’s professional services exclusion precludes coverage for claims brought against  broker-dealer David Lerner Associates, based on the firm’s offering underwriter and financial products sales