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Category: Fees Paid by Insurers

Judge Tosses Suit Seeking Coverage of Defense Fees

November 23, 2020

A recent Law 360 story by Rachel O’Brien, “Judge Nixes Suit For Crypto Co. Investor’s $728K Atty Fees,” reports that a New York federal judge tossed a lawsuit by an alleged pump-and-dump scheme mastermind asking for his attorney fees to be paid by a cryptocurrency company involved in the alleged scheme, ordering the man to pay the company's fees instead.  While Barry Honig and his business GRQ Consultants Inc. point to indemnification clauses in agreements with Riot Blockchain as proof that his legal fees should be paid, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said the clauses say the opposite.

Honig, at one time the largest shareholder in Riot Blockchain, spearheaded a $27 million pump-and-dump scheme involving 10 individuals and 10 associated corporate entities, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in September 2018.  Honig and others, including former Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. chairman Phillip Frost and Riot Blockchain CEO John O'Rourke, manipulated stock prices in three microcap companies and left investors holding "virtually worthless shares," the SEC said.

In July 2019, Honig settled the SEC claims without admitted any wrongdoing, submitting to an injunction barring him from future violations of federal securities laws, a penny stock ban and further restrictions.  Honig was named in several other suits, including in five shareholder derivative actions which alleged Riot, its directors and officers and Honig violated securities laws, and that Honig bought stock from Riot to gain "control" over the company so he could violate the securities laws.

A February 2018 class action from shareholder Creighton Takata in New Jersey federal court alleged that Honig's purchase of securities was part of a "fraudulent scheme consisting of misrepresentations, omissions, and actions that deceived the investing public in violation of securities laws."  He called those allegations "a house of cards" in his October 2019 motion to dismiss, which was granted in April because the shareholders didn't show how the defendants violated anti-fraud provisions of federal securities law, the judge said then.

In the case tossed, Honig had argued that the security purchase agreements he entered into with Riot in 2017 to buy convertible promissory notes and common stock purchase warrants guaranteed that if Honig was a defendant in a lawsuit, Riot would pay his legal fees.  The indemnification clauses in the agreements, Honig argued in the April suit, meant Riot must pay the $728,000 attorney fees he incurred fighting securities fraud allegations by the SEC and in class actions.

Riot argued that Honig's claim fails because Riot isn't obligated to pay when the litigation is connected with actions "based upon ... any violations by [Honig] of securities laws or any conduct by [Honig] which constitutes fraud, gross negligence, willful misconduct or malfeasance by [Honig]."  But Honig said the carveout in the indemnification clause only applies to actual securities violations, and since some of the lawsuits are ongoing, he's entitled to advancement of legal costs.

Judge Reice Buchwald agreed with Riot that "the allegations of the underlying action — not the merits of the action — govern Riot's obligations."  Since it's the nature of the allegations that trigger the obligation to indemnify, the clauses clearly side with Riot, Judge Reice Buchwald said.  "If there were any ambiguity, which there is not, about when the obligation to indemnify is determined (and thus whether allegations or merits control), the next sentence of Section 4.8 confirms the court's conclusion," she said.  She pointed to the section that states if an action is brought wherein the indemnity clause might be implemented, Honig must notify Riot in writing and Riot "shall have the right to assume the defense thereof with counsel of its own choosing reasonably acceptable to [Honig]."

"The logic of Section 4.8's structure is apparent," the judge said.  "The first sentence informs the parties as to whether indemnification is required.  If and when those conditions are satisfied, Honig would notify Riot, which then has the option to assume the defense.  The provision presupposes that the parties can determine, prior to that notice, whether an obligation to indemnify exists."

Judge Reice Buchwald also granted Riot's motion that Honig pay its reasonable attorney fees for this action.  Scott Carlton of Paul Hastings LLP, counsel for Riot Blockchain, told Law360 in a statement, "We are pleased with the court's careful consideration in this matter, including the awarding of attorneys' fees for Riot Blockchain as the prevailing party."

Insurers Refuse to Pay $18M in Defense Fees in Experian Class Actions

November 19, 2020

A recent Law 360 story by Joanne Faulkner, “Insurers Deny Liability in Experian’s $18M Legal Fees Suit,” reports that two insurers have told a London judge they are entitled to refuse to pay Experian's $18 million claim for coverage of its U.S. legal fees in a pair of class actions over errant credit reporting because the litigation stems from deliberate data erasure by staff at the company.  Zurich Insurance PLC and a subsidiary of SCOR said Experian's policy excludes "deliberate acts" such as those that allegedly form the basis of two major class action suits in the U.S., a newly public Nov. 13 defense said, after the company sued to claw back litigation fees.

The claims made against Experian — which said it has racked up millions of dollars in liabilities and legal costs defending the suits — were for statutory damages according to the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act.  If Experian is liable, it is the result of a "wilful (or reckless) failure on the part of an employee or employees … to comply with the FCRA," the defense said. 

Experian says in its October High Court suit that it paid a class of more than 100,000 payday loan customers $24 million to settle a lawsuit in January brought by lead plaintiff Demeta Reyes.  A $5 million deal was reached with consumers in the so-called Smith action.  The customers said they were harmed by inaccurate reporting of their credit history.  The insurers said that Experian's alleged liability in the Reyes action arises out of the deleting of loan records —  particularly those held by an entity called Delbert Services Corp.  In the Smith action, it is connected to the re-reporting of records relating to loans held by CashCall Inc.  Experian directors were involved in the decision-making in both incidents, the insurers said.

From April 2015 through April 2016, Experian held a complex multitiered insurance "tower" consisting of a primary policy from XL Specialty Insurance Co. and several layers of excess coverage, Experian says.  Zurich and SCOR unit General Security Indemnity Co. of Arizona are each liable for half of a $20 million excess policy, which kicked in once the underlying coverage was depleted, Experian says.  So far the insurers have only paid out a slice of the $20 million excess that Experian says it is entitled to, the company alleges.

Experian is also seeking a declaration from the court that the insurers will cover financial penalties that Experian may have to pay as a result of investigations into a 2015 cyberattack.  The two insurers said that coverage is provided for regulatory fines and penalties, but Experian must prove that any sanction is "lawfully insurable."

Experian says it has run up costs of more than $32 million defending two major related class suits.  Thousands of consumers successfully argued that Experian's failure to delete certain negative information in their consumer credit reports caused them harm.

Experian says it should be able to recover $18 million in legal costs from the insurers under its third-party liability and first-party insurance policies.  The suit also name-checks an action brought by Carolyn Clark alleging the company violated the FCRA, which ended up costing Experian more than $21 million. The company says it could be entitled to an indemnity of $14.3 million from the insurers to cover the costs from that case.

Insurer Wins Recovery of $5.5M in Defense Fees

September 7, 2020

A recent Law 360 story by Daphne Zhang, “Insurer Win ‘Incompetent’ Atty Fight to Recoup $5.5M,” reports that a California federal judge axed a claims handler's suit seeking additional coverage of its legal bills from an insurer that it says hired a bad lawyer to fend off underlying litigation involving a car crash, ruling instead in favor of the insurer's counterclaim to recoup over $5.5 million in defense and arbitration costs it paid.  U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino said that American Claims Management Inc.'s coverage claims are barred by Allied World Surplus Lines Insurance Co.'s policy exclusions, and since some of the claim handler's legal bills should not have been covered, the insurer is entitled to recoup its over $5.5 million payment from ACM.

Allied World has sufficiently shown that its policy's claims services and dishonest acts exclusion precludes coverage since ACM acted in bad faith and concealed information in its handling of insurance claims in the underlying case, Judge Sammartino said.  The judge dismissed ACM's allegation that Allied World breached its duty of defense because the claims handler failed to show that attorney Alan Jampol of Jampol Zimet, appointed by Allied World to defend ACM in the underlying suit, was incompetent or inexperienced, according to the order.

ACM processed claims for QBE Insurance Corp. As of October 2010, it retained Allied World to insure its work for up to $5 million and contracted with other insurance companies for an additional $10 million in coverage.  In the underlying case, a driver insured by QBE crashed into a vehicle and injured a family.  When processing the injured family's claim, ACM missed a March 2011 deadline that would have capped QBE's exposure at $30,000.  The family subsequently won a $21 million jury verdict in the underlying case, which QBE later settled for $15 million, according to filings.

QBE then offered to settle with ACM for $15 million, but Allied World allowed the matter to go to arbitration.  In July 2017, an arbitration panel awarded QBE more than $18.5 million, according to court papers.  With the portion of the over $5 million policy that Allied World paid and the $10 million paid by its other insurance carriers, ACM wanted Allied World to pay the remaining $4.9 million of the arbitration award and sued them.

In the order, Judge Sammartino said that Allied World's policy exclusions bars coverage for acts of bad faith and dishonest conduct in handling an insurance contract, and QBE specifically alleged that ACM handled the car accident claim in bad faith.  The judge said the arbitration panel in the underlying case found that ACM "chose to withhold from QBE evidence of its own negligent performance," provided QBE with "inadequate and misleading" information, and that ACM "has repeatedly tried to conceal and misrepresent the fact of timely receipt of the letter demand" from the injured family.

Additionally, the court has found that Jampol was competent at the time of his appointment by Allied World to defend ACM, Judge Sammartino said. ACM has alleged that Jampol was inexperienced with car accident cases and had never handled a "bad-faith" case as complicated as the underlying suit, according to filings.

"Plaintiff gives no reason why an auto accident case such as this would be more complex than other bad-faith insurance claims that Jampol had experience handling.  Nor does plaintiff identify any skills or knowledge necessary to litigate an auto accident case that Jampol lacked," the judge said.

Insurer Must Pay $6M Fee Award After Jury Verdict

August 29, 2020

A recent Law 360 story by Daphne Zhang, “Insurer Must Pay $21M Jury Verdict, $6M Fee Award,” reports that a Georgia federal judge denied Cypress Insurance Co.'s bid to disregard a $21 million jury verdict and a $6 million attorney fee award to the family of a man killed by a trucker accident, ruling that the insurer gave no evidence that the jury's decision was wrong.  U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story said the jury's February verdict was supported by evidence and witness testimony, holding that Cypress failed to demonstrate and offer further proof that the trucker, its policyholder, did not act in negligence and bad faith.

Cypress previously asked the court to set the February jury verdict aside or hold a new trial after the jury awarded $21 million to the family of Kip Holland. Holland died in December 2016, after being hit by a trailer that had detached and rolled away from a semi-tractor being driven by James Harper.

The carrier has argued that the accident was caused by an "act of God," saying that a $6 million special verdict for attorney fees should be argued orally because it "equates to paying counsel at a rate of $5,500 an hour."

The judge rebuffed Cypress' challenging the $6 million attorney costs award, saying the Holland family and their attorneys sufficiently illustrated their contractual agreement of having the counsel earning a 40% fee, and the jury reasonably chose to enforce it.  "Defendants' contention that plaintiffs were required to provide evidence of an hourly rate to support their request for attorney's fees does not comport with the Court's reading of the governing law," the judge said.

Insurers Must Cover Former Executives Defense Fees in Litigation

August 28, 2020

A recent Law 360 story by Mike Curley, “Insurers Must Cover Ex-RCAP Execs' Defense Costs,” reports that a New York appeals court has found that Westchester Fire Insurance Co., Aspen American Insurance Co. and RSUI Indemnity Co. must pay defense costs incurred by five former executives for RCAP Holdings LLC in a suit by the bankrupt company's litigation successor, reversing course from its own May opinion.

In the opinion, the five-judge panel broke from its earlier opinion in finding the excess insurers must advance defense costs to former RCAP Executive Chairman Nicholas S. Schorsch and his fellow former officers and directors, Edward M. Weil Jr., William Kahane, Peter M. Budko and Brian S. Block, in a suit by the RCS Creditor Trust alleging they drove RCAP into bankruptcy.  The panel did, however, leave intact its other holdings from the prior opinion, including its conclusion that a so-called insured-versus-insured exclusion does not bar coverage for the ex-officers and directors.

According to the new opinion, the insurance companies are obligated to pay for Schorsch and the others' defense costs because the policies provide that the insurers must advance such costs for any claim before its "final disposition."   By the plain policy terms, if there is a possibility that coverage applies to an underlying complaint, the insurer must pay for the insureds' defense of the complaint until and unless the trial court finds coverage is barred, the panel wrote.

"This court's finding that the creditor trust action 'may reveal' that defendants insureds' claim is not covered necessarily means that there is a possibility of coverage under the policies for the advancement of defense costs for the defendants insureds," the panel wrote.

The new opinion comes after the directors pushed for a reconsideration in June, arguing the May ruling ignored the plain language in the policies and settled New York law on the matter.  Under the plain policy language, the directors argued, the insurers' obligation to pay for defense costs is cemented in the facts of the complaint against them, even if a court later finds there was no duty to defend.

In May, the appeals court agreed that the insured-versus-insured provision did not apply because of the bankruptcy exception, saying that when the insured-versus-insured exclusion and the bankruptcy exception are read in tandem, the term "comparable authority" is clearly broad enough to encompass RCS.mmIf the insurers intended to exclude claims brought on creditors' behalf by an entity like the trust, they could have inserted language to that effect, the panel said.

The May opinion, however, reversed Justice Sherwood's granting of summary judgment on the directors' breach of contract claims, because the lower court has not ruled on the merits of Westchester and RSUI's other defenses, such as the argument that the directors were not acting in their capacity as officers of the company, but enriching themselves as individuals.

The opinion largely follows that prior opinion, keeping the determination that the bankruptcy exception to the insured-versus-insured provision applies to the litigation trust, as well as the reversal of the summary judgment on Schorsch's counterclaims.  Both the May opinion and the new opinion also vacate Justice Sherwood's finding that the insurers must pay indemnity costs in the creditor trust suit and the awarding of attorney fees incurred by Schorsch and the other defendants in this action.