In recent years, corporate directors and executives have faced challenges from conservative groups opposed to corporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, with some efforts taking the form of shareholder litigation.
Long a feature of directors’ and officers’ (D&O) liability insurance policies, the so-called “Bump-Up” Exclusion has gotten significant attention over the last few years. Because of the recent escalation in securities litigation that follows a majority of mergers and acquisitions, the Bump-Up Exclusion is of critical importance to publicly traded policyholders. Bump-Up Exclusion provisions are often found in a D&O policy’s definition of “Loss” and purport to exclude the amount of a settlement or judgment that represents an increase in the price paid to acquire an entity, where such consideration was alleged to be inadequate. A recent decision out of the Delaware state courts affirms again that D&O insurers will be held to the specific terms of their Bump-Up Exclusions.
The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the failure of Signature Bank, the close-call of First Republic, and the bailout of Credit Suisse had many proclaiming earlier this year that banking was heading toward an industry-wide disaster. The chair of the FDIC reported in March of this year that American financial institutions incurred a total of $620 billion in unrealized mark-to-market losses. The stock markets certainly reflected those figures. The Nasdaq index for bank stocks dropped by a quarter within a week after SVB’s failure was announced. Gains accumulated over the past quarter century evaporated in just a few days, with U.S. regional lenders bearing the brunt of the impact. While last month saw the banking sector make a modest rebound, the sector gauge remains down by 20% so far this year.
In 2020 and 2021, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) were all the rage. A SPAC is a “blank check company,” publicly traded, and organized for the purpose of merging with a private company. It’s a mechanism for a private operating company to go public without doing its own IPO. Though SPACs have existed for decades, their use skyrocketed in the last couple years. While insurers, brokers and attorneys have developed a level of expertise on risks and insurance coverage in connection with SPAC formation and completed de-SPAC transactions, the insurance implications of failed SPACs was not addressed in 2020 and 2021 and is still not fully understood or appreciated.
Four months ago, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) (S.66A/A.648A), creating a one-year window, beginning November 24, 2022, for adult survivors of sexual assault to bring civil claims against their alleged attackers which otherwise would have been time barred. On September 19, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an equivalent law, the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act (AB-2777), which similarly suspends the statute of limitations for civil claims of sexual assault and other vicarious offenses arising out of that conduct starting January 1, 2023. These laws will likely generate a surge of litigation in California and New York, undoubtedly impacting many businesses operating there. Many, if not most, of those companies will look to insurers to furnish legal defenses and to financially support settlements or damage awards based on past policies.
As the preferred place of incorporation for most U.S. companies, Delaware has long been a leader in the development of statutory and common law on corporate governance. In keeping with this role, the Delaware legislature recently amended its corporate code to permit enhanced legal exculpation of officers of Delaware corporations. Let’s look at this amendment and its implications for D&O insurance.
Amazon. Bank of America. Citigroup. Dick’s Sporting Goods. JP Morgan. Kroger. Meta. Microsoft. Procter & Gamble. Target. Walt Disney Company. These are just a few of what is a growing list of companies that have offered to cover costs for employees who may now need to travel out of state to receive abortion care in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. But companies that are stepping up to further protect their employees’ reproductive rights are choosing to do so in the face of potential public backlash and uncertain legal risks.
An oft-repeated maxim in self-help literature is: “Do not let your circumstances define who you are.” In a similar vein, policyholders should proactively manage situations in which known circumstances may potentially give rise to an eventual claim.
Suppose a company perceives the potential risk of litigation or a government investigation. This may not necessarily be the result of any known wrongful conduct—such risk may just be inherent in the company’s business model or within the company’s industry. When the company’s D&O insurance policy (or employment liability or professional liability, as the case may be) is on the verge of expiring, the company may be faced with the decision whether to report such circumstances to the insurer under the policy’s “notice of circumstances” (NOC) provision, which permits the policyholder to provide notice of facts or events that may give rise to claims in the future. If such notice is given within the specified time, the insurer will treat any subsequent claims arising out of the noticed circumstances as claims first made within the policy period, even if the claims are brought much later.
The widespread denial of coverage under first-party property insurance policies for business interruption losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has been extensively reported, but so far less attention has been paid to related third-party claims and attendant coverage issues arising under liability insurance policies. When ticketed attendees sued the organizer of the South by Southwest (SXSW) music and film festival, SXSW LLC, for refunds after the 2020 annual event was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s liability insurer, Federal Insurance Company, refused to make good its duty to defend. SXSW has now sued Federal in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas seeking a declaration that Federal owes a duty to defend SXSW against the underlying putative class action, providing insight on COVID-19-related liability coverage issues.
Last month, we discussed a decision by the Northern District of Illinois finding an amount labeled “restitution” in a settlement between a pharmaceutical company and the DOJ was insurable loss under a D&O policy. Shortly after that post, the New York Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion, continuing the trend of looking beyond the labels used for the payments in the underlying settlement agreement. In rejecting the insurers’ argument, the court evaluated the purpose of the payments and the nature of how they were derived to find the payments at issue were insurable under a Professional Liability policy, despite being called “disgorgement.”