Tag Archives: directors and officers

5 D&O Mega Trends for 2020

The range of risks facing company executives or directors and officers (D&Os) – as well as resulting insurance claims scenarios – has increased significantly in recent years. With corporate management under the spotlight like never before, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty has identified, in its latest risk report, Directors and Officers Insurance Insights 2020, five mega trends that will have significant risk implications for senior management in 2020 and beyond.

1. More litigation is coming from “bad news” events

Allianz continues to see more D&O claims emanating from “bad news” not necessarily related to financial results, including product problems, man-made disasters, environmental disasters, corruption and cyber-attacks – “event-driven litigation” cases that often result in significant securities or derivative claims from shareholders after a share price fall or regulatory investigation related to the “bad news” event.

Plaintiffs seek to relate the “event” to prior company or board statements of reassurance to shareholders and regulators of no known issues. Of the top 100 US securities fraud settlements ever, 59% are event-driven.

One of the most prevalent types of these events is cyber incidents. Allianz has seen a number of securities class actions, derivative actions and regulatory investigations and fines, including from the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in the last year, and expects an acceleration in 2020.

Companies and boards increasingly will be held responsible for data breaches and network security issues that cause loss of personal information or significant impairment to the company’s performance and reputation. Companies suffering major cyber or security breaches increasingly are targeted by shareholders in derivative litigations alleging failure to institute timely protective measures for the company and its customers.

The Marriott case – where the hotel chain announced that one of its reservation systems had been compromised, with hundreds of millions of customer records left exposed – is a recent example of a cyber breach resulting in D&O claims – one $12.5 billion lawsuit among several filings alleges that a “digital infestation” of the company, unnoticed by management, caused customer personal data to be compromised for over four years.

2. ESG and climate change litigation on the rise

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) failings can cause brand values to plummet. And investors, regulators, governments and customers increasingly expect companies and boards to focus on ESG issues, such as climate change, for example. Climate change litigation cases have been brought in at least 28 countries to date (three-quarters in the U.S.). In the U.S., there are an increasing number of cases alleging that companies have failed to adjust business practices in line with changing climate conditions.

Human exploitation in the supply chain is another disrupter and illustrates how ethical topics can cause D&O claims. Such topics can also be a major focus for activist investors whose campaigns continue to increase year-on-year.

Appropriate company culture can be a strong defense risk-mechanism. Many studies show board diversity helps reduce and foresee risk. Regulators are keen to investigate and punish individual officers rather than the entity, forcing directors into increased personal scrutiny to provide assurance that they did due diligence to prevent such cases from occurring.

See also: How to Deliver Tough Message on D&O  

3. Growth of securities class actions globally

Securities class actions, most prevalent in the U.S., Canada and Australia, are growing globally as legal environments evolve and in response to growing receptivity of governments to collective redress and class actions. Significantly, the E.U. has proposed enacting a collective redress model to allow for class actions, while states, such as Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K., have established collective redress procedures. The pace of U.S. filing activity in 2019 has been only marginally slower than record highs of 2017 and 2018, when there were over 400 filings, almost double the average number of the preceding two decades.

Shareholder activism has increased. Approximately 82% of public company merger transactions valued over $100 million gave rise to litigation by shareholders of the target company threatening that the target company’s board will have breached its duties by underpricing the company, should the merger succeed.

4. Bankruptcies and political challenges

With most experts predicting a slowdown in economic growth, Allianz expects to see increased insolvencies, which may potentially translate into D&O claims. Business insolvencies rose in 2018 by more than 10% year-on-year, owing to a surge of over 60% in China, according to Euler Hermes. In 2019, business failures are set to rise for the third consecutive year by more than 6% year-on-year, with two out of three countries poised to post higher numbers of insolvencies than in 2018.

Political challenges, including significant elections, Brexit and trade wars, could create the need for risk planning for boards, including revisiting currency strategy, merger and acquisition (M&A) planning and supply chain and sourcing decisions based on tariffs. Poor decision- making may also result in claims from stakeholders.

5. Litigation funding is now a global investment class

These mega trends are further fueled by litigation funding now becoming a global investment class, attracting investors hurt by years of low interest rates searching for higher returns. Litigation finance reduces many of the entrance cost barriers for individuals wanting to seek compensation, although there is much debate around the remuneration model of this business.

Recently, many of the largest litigation funders have set up in Europe. Although the U.S. accounts for roughly 40% of the market, followed by Australia and the U.K., other areas are opening up, such as recent authorizations for litigation funding for arbitration cases in Singapore and Hong Kong. Next hotspots are predicted to be India and parts of the Middle East. Estimates are that the litigation funding industry has grown to around $10 billion globally, although some put the figure much higher, in the $50 billion to $100 billion range, based on billings of the largest law firms.

The state of the market

Although around $15 billion of D&O insurance premiums are collected annually, the sector’s profitability is challenged due to increased competition, growth in the number of lawsuits and rising claims frequency and severity. Loss ratios have been variously estimated to be in excess of 100% in numerous markets, including the U.K., U.S. and Germany in recent years due to drivers such as event-driven litigation, collective redress developments, regulatory investigations, pollution, higher defense costs and a general cultural shift, even in civil law countries, to bring more D&O claims both against individuals and the company in relation to securities.

The increased claims activity, combined with many years of new capital and soft pricing in the D&O market has resulted in some reductions in capacity. In addition, there has also been an increase in the tail of claims. Hence, there is a double impact of prior-year claims being more severe than anticipated and a higher frequency of notifications in recent years. As for claims severity, marketplace data suggests that the aggregate amount of alleged investor losses underlying U.S. securities class action claims filed last year was a multiple of any year preceding it.

See also: Why Private Firms Should Buy D&O  

Despite rising claim frequency and severity, the industry has labored under a persistent and deepening soft market for well over a decade before seeing some recent hardening. Publicly disclosed data suggests D&O market pricing turned modestly positive in 2018 for the first time since 2003. However, D&O rates per million of limit covered were up by around 17% in Q2 2019, compared with the same period in 2018, with the overall price change for primary policies renewing with the same limit and deductible up almost 7%.

From an insurance-purchasing perspective, Allianz sees customers unable to purchase the same limits at expiration also looking to purchase additional Side A-only limits and also to use captives or alternative risk transfer (ART) solutions for the entity portion of D&O Insurance (Side C). Higher retentions, co-insurance and captive-use indicate a clear trend of customers considering retaining more risk in current conditions.

6 Areas to Watch in a D&O Review

Performing a directors and officers (D&O) insurance audit is a complex exercise that is made more difficult by constantly shifting language, new rulings and claim trends. While much of the policies’ language and terms have remained fairly constant over the years, here are six areas of new or renewed interest that buyers and their brokers will want to pay attention to.

See also: The Need to Educate on General Liability  

Cyber Exclusions: Because cyber-related litigation has been quiet, there is little case law at the moment testing courts’ interpretations of D&O policies, so it is difficult to determine the adequacy of coverage provided by existing policy language. Generally speaking, D&O policies are not crafted with cyber risks in mind, so many policies may contain problematic language, such as the definition of “wrongful acts.” However, some carriers are going in the opposite direction and are purposefully applying specific cyber-related exclusions to their policies with the intent of pushing the exposures to more appropriate cyber policies.

Cyber policies have still not quite adjusted entirely to modern cyber risk, and these exclusions are not yet industry standards, so buyers should — when able — avoid D&O policies that contain cyber exclusions. While most policies are absent of such language, many carriers have included somewhat watered down wording by adding “privacy events and/or invasion of privacy” within the broad bodily injury exclusions. While this language is not as crippling as an explicit cyber exclusion, buyers should still attempt to negotiate its removal.

Many professional liability experts also believe broadly worded terrorism exclusions may have the ability to negate coverage for cyber events with the belief that they will be classified as cyber-terrorism. To address the terrorism exclusion, buyers should ask the carriers to “except” (thus, carving back) cyber-related claims.

Lastly, while it may be obvious, brokers should advise buyers on the importance of placing separate cyber insurance while also highlighting the intricate coverage differences among them. The same level of attention that is given to grooming D&O coverage should be given to grooming cyber proposals/policies. This includes careful review of policy definitions, terms, conditions, exclusions, etc.

Professional Services Exclusion: Along with the contractual exclusion, the professional services exclusion is consistently cited as one of the most sweeping and problematic exclusions for insureds. Broad professional service exclusions typically preclude coverage for claims “for, based upon, arising from or related to” errors, acts and omissions while providing professional services. This exclusion is particularly problematic for service firms because almost any claim can be “related to” their providing of professional services. However, this exclusion is also becoming increasingly problematic for many businesses because so many businesses today provide some level of services (from consulting to technology services). For tech companies, in particular, this exclusion has the potential to preclude coverage for cyber-related claims, as many of the tech services provided may be considered “professional services” by the carrier.

When negotiating this exclusion, buyers should ask the carriers to replace the term “for, based upon, arising from or related to,” with, simply, “for.” Such an amendment effectively carves out the errors and omissions exposure the carrier intends to exclude while still preserving coverage for “true” D&O claims.

Conduct Exclusion: The conduct exclusions are one of the (if not the) most visited exclusions within D&O policies. While not much has changed in terms of recommendations to D&O buyers, we have noticed a number of carriers that still contain less-than-preferred language. To avoid coverage being denied for unintentional wrongdoing, the conduct should be specifically stated as “deliberate, willful and intentional.” Sufficient severability language should also be included to protect innocent directors.

The area where we still see many carriers lacking is in the “ruling language.” For purposes of providing coverage for innocent actors and claims without merit, the carrier should agree to provide defense costs until a final determination is made. More specifically, though, that final “determination” should be in the form of a “final adjudication in the underlying action.” While much of it may seem like a matter of semantics, final rulings/judgments are NOT the same as “final adjudication,” which is required by the courts. In addition, the language should specifically state that that determination be made in the underlying action to prevent the carrier from arguing that wrongdoing found by those outside the courts (such as regulators) nullifies coverage.

JOBS Act/Securities Exclusion: Startups and companies looking to raise equity have a new reason to be excited. The JOBS Act provides an avenue for significant growth without all of the time and compliance costs imposed by the strict reporting and disclosure obligations that come with an IPO. And with the new regulation A+, the ceiling has been lifted, allowing a significant capital raise while still remaining private.

Those same attractive features, however, also carry some increased risk. The potential for fraud (and accusations of fraud) is considerably higher because of the lack of transparency. Additionally, private companies purchasing D&O may find a somewhat hidden surprise in the broad securities exclusions that almost entirely eliminate coverage for crowdfunding-related claims.

While many insurers have been somewhat slow to react, many others responded expeditiously by either adding a separate endorsement or revising their exclusion to carve back coverage for claims that are related to securities and qualify under the JOBS Act. Any companies considering a crowdfunding campaign or raising any equity under crowdfunding regulations should exercise extra diligence when reviewing their D&O insurance to ensure the carrier has appropriately provided coverage for such claims. Without question, this includes smaller companies that may believe they are less prone to crowdfunding claims, which is false. The case against Quest from 2011 demonstrates that these claims can arise over seemingly simple fee disputes.

Lastly, organizations should also avoid any carrier-imposed sub-limits for crowdfunding-related claims, paying close attention to the adequacy of such limits when they are unavoidable.

Entity vs. Insured Exclusion: The insured vs. insured exclusion is almost as old as D&O itself. To alleviate some of the concerns related to the “I vs I” exclusion, many carriers today have adopted a more modern alternative replacing it with an “entity vs. insured” exclusion. While this substitution is preferred and does seem to solve many of the unintended consequences, it still deserves careful review. The most obvious carve-back that buyers and their brokers should seek is coverage for derivative claims brought on behalf of the organization. Because of their derivative nature, insureds should also negotiate a carve-back for bankruptcy claims brought by trustees and debtors in possession. Additionally, buyers should review the definitions of insured and organization/entity to ensure bankruptcy trustees and debtor-in-possession are also included as insureds.

Regulatory Proceedings and Investigations: Coverage for regulatory/administrative proceedings and investigations has always been of interest for buyers but remains difficult to obtain. Informal regulatory proceedings and investigations against the entity itself are the most difficult to insure against.

With cyber whistleblower claims beginning, regulators are capitalizing on their success with more “traditional” whistleblower claims, and coverage for government investigations is quickly becoming a topic of renewed interest. Over the past few years, many carriers have begun to provide coverage for informal investigations and regulatory/administrative proceedings against individual directors and officers. Additionally, private companies may be able to obtain coverage for formal investigations and proceedings against the entity itself. It should be noted that, for purposes of reviewing and grooming coverage, administrative/regulatory proceedings and investigations are not synonymous.

Some carriers have also been implementing standard coverage for FCPA fines/penalties against individuals. The ability to obtain a policy with such language does not necessarily mean the policy will respond, though. There are a number of additional items that require review, such as claim definitions that require “wrongful act” accusations to trigger the regulatory coverage (which should be avoided).

See also: What to Expect on Management Liability  

The Need to Educate on General Liability

In a perfect world, insurance buyers would understand their products just as well their insurance agents. This would save a few headaches for everyone involved, and it would probably streamline the process on all ends. However, the reality is that most business owners don’t understand the extent of the insurance products they purchase. Then again, no one should expect them to.

Insurance products are highly complex vehicles. Few business owners have the time to invest in becoming experts in the field or in the products they purchase. Even the best insurance agents spend years learning about the products they sell, many of which change frequently as the economy changes.

That being said, no business owner should simply buy a product without understanding the most important aspects regarding what it does and does not cover. In truth, a highly skilled insurance agent should never let them, either. Here’s where there can be a gap between how much insurance a business purchases and how much it actually needs, showing why educating business owners on the extent of their insurance really matters.

False Perceptions of General Liability Are Common

Many customers tend to believe their insurance covers more than it actually does. This situation could probably be applied to any insurance product, but general liability policies are often the most frequently misunderstood by buyers.

See also: What to Expect on Management Liability  

To put it simply, far too many businesses are purchasing less insurance coverage than they should. In a sense, many are taking a huge gamble, believing their risk exposure is less than what it actually is or that their preventative measures, such as employee training, can shield them from those risks. While risk prevention definitely helps, it’s ultimately far from the bulletproof shield many companies think it is. Most companies do it to help themselves get a better rate on their insurance, while maintaining the false perception that their general liability coverage protects them against a multitude of risks not actually defined in the policy.

As a company scales in size, so, too, does its likelihood of experiencing losses related to cyber liability, employee fraud, fiduciary liability, directors and officers (D&O) or workplace violence. Yet many companies seem not to realize their exposure.

This would, of course, be less troubling if companies were purchasing policies that actually covered those kind of risks. Overwhelmingly, they’re choosing to avoid those insurance products altogether. According to Chubb’s survey on private company risk, non-purchasers believed their general liability policy covered:

  • Directors and Officers Liability (65%)
  • Employment Practices Liability (60%)
  • Errors & Omissions Liability (52%)
  • Fiduciary Liability (51%)
  • Cyber Liability (39%)

Businesses aren’t failing to purchase enough liability coverage because they’re unnecessary risk takers. Most, it seems, simply have false perceptions about what their general liability will and won’t do.

A small business may think its general liability policy covers a server hack. Yet, lo and behold, when a server gets hacked and the ensuing liability claims start pouring in, that small business may quickly find itself underwater. In fact, the U.S National Cyber Security Alliance found that the 60% of small companies went out of business within six months of a cyber attack. This seems extreme, but the average cost for a small business to clean up after a hack is $690,000, according to the Ponemon Institute. How many small- or medium-sized businesses can easily absorb that kind of cost without insurance coverage? Not many.

Similarly, mid-sized companies may believe their general liability policy covers directors and officers, leaving the company with unnecessary risk exposures should an incident occur. If, for example, a company begins operating internationally and fails to effectively meet one of the federal regulations governing its industry, a general liability policy won’t help protect the company from impending lawsuits. Any directors held personally responsible may find their own personal assets at risk. Given what we learned from the Chubb survey, it’s quite likely that most directors may think they’re fine with the minimal coverage they receive from a general liability policy. A costly mistake, to be sure.

Who’s to Blame?

We’ll leave the finger pointing aside for now and settle on this: The customer is always right, but he’s not always well-informed. As every insurance agent knows, the amount of time it takes to fully understand an insurance product can be extensive. Business owners, in general, lack the time to invest in fully understanding the products they purchase. It should come as no surprise, then, that misunderstandings arise over what general liability policies actually cover and what risks they simply won’t mitigate.

See also: ISO Form Changes Commercial General Liability  

Insurance agents have a responsibility to use their knowledge to help business owners better understand and sift through those misconceptions. More needs to be done to help decision-makers understand what they are and are not getting from their insurance.

Helping businesses better understand the ins and outs of their general liability policy is a win-win all around.

Tips for Avoiding Securities Litigation

Here are tips on how public companies can better protect themselves against securities claims — practical steps companies can take to help them avoid suits, mitigate the risk if they are sued and defend themselves more effectively and efficiently.

Avoiding suits

Companies can avoid many suits with what I’ll call “better-feeling” disclosures. Nearly all public companies devote significant resources to accounting that conforms with GAAP, and non-accounting disclosures that comply with the labyrinth of disclosure rules. Despite tremendous efforts in these areas, events sometimes surprise officers and directors — and the market — and make a company’s previous accounting or non-accounting disclosures appear to have been inaccurate. But plaintiffs’ lawyers decide to sue only a subset of such companies — a smaller percentage than most people would assume. What makes them sue Company A, but not Company B, when both have suffered a stock price drop because of a development that relates to their earlier disclosures?  There are a number of factors, but I believe the driver is whether a company’s disclosures “feel” fair and honest. Without the benefit of discovery, plaintiffs’ lawyers have to draw inferences about whether litigation will reveal fraud or a sufficient degree of recklessness — or show that the discrepancies between the earlier disclosures and later revelations was due to mistake or an unanticipated development.

What can companies do to make their disclosures “feel “more honest? An easy way is to improve the quality of their Safe Harbor warnings. Although the Reform Act’s Safe Harbor was designed to protect companies from lawsuits over forward-looking statements, there are still an awful lot of such actions filed. The best way to avoid them is by crafting risk warnings that are current and candid. A plaintiffs’ lawyer who reads two years’ worth of risk factors can tell whether the risk factors are boilerplate or an honest attempt to describe the company’s risks. The latter deters suits. The former invites them.Another way for companies to improve their disclosures is through more precision and a greater feel of candor in the comments they make during investor conference calls. Companies sweat over every detail in their written disclosures but then send their CEO and CFO out to field questions on the very same subjects and improvise their responses. What executives say, and how they say it, often determines whether plaintiffs’ lawyers sue — and, if they do, how difficult the case will be to defend. A majority of the most difficult statements to defend in a securities class action are from investor calls, and plaintiffs’ lawyers listen to these calls and form impressions about officers’ fairness and honesty.

Companies looking to minimize the risks of litigation should also take steps to prevent their officers and directors from making suspicious-looking stock sales — for obvious reasons, plaintiffs’ lawyers like to file suits that include stock sales. If a company’s officers and directors don’t have 10b5-1 plans, companies should establish and follow an insider trading policy and, when in doubt, seek guidance from outside counsel on issues such as trading windows and the propriety of individual stock sales, both as to the legal ability to sell, and how the sales will appear to plaintiffs’ lawyers. Even if officers and directors have 10b5-1 plans, companies aren’t immune to scrutiny of their stock sales — plaintiffs’ lawyers usually aren’t deterred by 10b5-1 plans, contrary to conventional wisdom. So companies should consult with their counsel about establishing and maintaining the plans, to avoid traps for the unwary.

Defending suits

Whether a securities class action is a difficult experience or a fairly routine corporate legal matter usually turns on the company’s decisions about directors’ and officers’ indemnification and insurance, choice of defense counsel and management of the defense of the litigation.

Deciding on the right director and officer protections and defense counsel require an understanding of the seriousness of securities class actions. Although they are a public company’s primary D&O litigation exposure, most companies don’t understand the degree of risk they pose. Some companies seem to take securities class actions too seriously, while others might not take them seriously enough.

The right level of concern is almost always in the middle. A securities class action is a significant lawsuit. It alleges large theoretical damages and wrongdoing by senior management and often the board. But the risk presented by a securities action is usually very manageable, if the company hires experienced, non-conflicted and efficient counsel and devotes sufficient time and energy to the litigation. Cases can be settled for a predictable amount, and it is exceedingly rare for directors and officers to write a personal check to defend or settle the case. On the other hand, it can be a costly mistake for a company to take a securities class action too lightly; even meritless cases can go wrong.

The right approach involves several practical steps that are within every company’s control.

Companies should hire the right D&O insurance broker and treat the broker as a trusted adviser.

There is a talented and highly specialized community of D&O insurance brokers. Companies should evaluate which is the right broker for them — they should conduct an interview process to decide on the right broker and seek guidance from knowledgeable sources, including securities litigation defense counsel. Companies should heavily utilize the broker in deciding on the right structure for their D&O insurance program and in selecting the right insurers. And, because D&O insurance is ultimately about protecting officers and directors, companies should have the broker speak directly to the board about the D&O insurance program.

Boards should learn more about their D&O insurers.

Boards should know their D&O insurers’ financial strength and other objective characteristics. But boards should also consider speaking with the primary insurer’s underwriting executives from time to time, especially if the relationship with the carrier is, or may be, long-term. The quality of any insurance turns on the insurer’s response to a claim. D&O insurance is a relationship business. Insurers want to cover D&O claims, and it is important to them to have a good reputation for doing so. The more the insurer knows the company, the more comfortable the insurer will be about covering even a difficult claim. And the more a board knows the insurer, the more comfortable the board will be that the insurer will cover even a difficult claim.

Boards should oversee the defense-counsel selection process, and make sure the company conducts an interview process and chooses counsel based on value.

The most important step for a company to take in defending a securities class action is to conduct an audition process through which the company selects conflict-free defense counsel who can provide a quality defense — at a cost that leaves the company enough room to defend and resolve the litigation within policy limits. Put differently, the biggest threats to an effective defense of a securities class action are the use of either a conflicted defense counsel, defense counsel who will charge an irrational fee for the litigation or counsel who will cut corners to make the economics appear reasonable.

Errors in counsel-selection most often occur when a company fails to conduct an interview process, or fails to consult with its D&O insurers and brokers, who are “repeat players” in D&O litigation and thus have good insights on the best counsel for a particular case. Although the Reform Act’s 90-day lead plaintiff selection process gives companies plenty of time to evaluate, interview, and select the right defense counsel for the case, many companies quickly hire their corporate counsel’s litigation colleagues, without consulting with brokers and insurers or interviewing other firms.

The right counsel may end up being the company’s normal corporate firm, but a quick hiring decision rarely makes sense under a cost-benefit analysis. The cost of hiring the wrong firm can substantial — the harm includes millions of dollars of unnecessary fees; hundreds of hours of wasted time by the board, officers and employees; an outcome that is unnecessarily uncertain; and an unnecessarily high settlement — and there’s very little or no upside to the company.

On the other hand, it costs very little to interview several firms for an hour or two each, and the benefit can be substantial – free and specialized strategic advice by several of the handful of lawyers who defend securities litigation full time, and potentially substantial price and other concessions from the firm that is ultimately chosen.  The auditioning lawyers can also provide guidance to the company on whether its corporate counsel faces conflicts and, if so, the potential harm to the company and the officers and directors from hiring corporate counsel anyway.

Why Private Firms Should Buy D&O

It is a fact of doing business in the U.S.: Lawsuits happen!

Regardless of whether the action has any merit, lawsuits are expensive to deal with, damaging to reputations and draining to a business and its management. Small to mid-sized private companies can specifically attest—litigation is never a small or inconsequential matter. Any business, regardless of the sector it is in (manufacturing, service, agricultural, transportation, energy, technology), can find itself embroiled in a dispute. Disputes can arise from relationships gone sour with shareholders, competitors, regulators, creditors, or even a random third party.

Directors, officers and company (“D&O”) liability insurance for privately held companies can be a lifesaver in the event an unexpected lawsuit or dispute arises. When a business and its management team are placed in an adversary’s crosshairs, a D&O policy can step in to respond right off the bat. This response would include providing a defense, including the engagement of skilled legal counsel who will guide the D&Os through the process. In addition, when coverage applies, the D&O policy would fund the settlement of a lawsuit, or pay a judgment if the case were to go to trial.

Originally, D&O coverage was designed to protect only the individual directors and officers from lawsuits brought by outside shareholders who are not involved in the management of the company. However, D&O products have evolved considerably over the past 20 years and now cover the entity as well as the D&Os for a wide range of management decisions and claims from shareholders, as well as clients, competitors, vendors and creditors.

A disturbing fact for members of the company’s board of directors is that D&Os can, and usually do, get personally named in a lawsuit asserted against the company. The claim seeks personal liability against the D&Os. The more closely held a company is, the fewer owners/D&Os there are to sue, so the exposure to the personal assets of those principals is even more pronounced.

D&Os know that, in most states, a corporation is required to indemnify its D&Os for personal liability, if it arose from the execution of their corporate duties. If the corporation is on financially sound footing, the D&Os’ personal assets will usually be protected. However, situations often arise where the company cannot or will not defend a D or O, compelling them to defend themselves. Such cases can be when the company is not on solid financial footing or when it becomes insolvent. As troubling as it may sound, in tough financial times, the D&Os could find themselves paying for their own defense and settlement of a lawsuit out of their own pockets.

When a lawsuit hits, the financial advantages of having D&O coverage is readily apparent. What isn’t evident from reviewing policies is something we’ve witnessed over the course of many D&O claims. When serious accusations of wrongdoing are leveled at a member of management and there’s no D&O coverage to fall back on to fund the claim, the financial burden of a dispute can tear a management team apart. For example, suppose you are the officer who is the target of certain allegations. How quickly do you think your colleagues will rally around you when your alleged error or omission is the cause of significant financial hardship to the company?

Without D&O insurance in place to shoulder the financial and legal burden of a claim, infighting can erupt rather quickly when the company’s financial resources are placed in peril. When accusations fly, and salaries and bonuses might be affected, such situations often change the way people behave toward one another. As opposed to circling the wagons, executives may play the blame game.

In contrast, if D&O insurance is in place, there may not be such a panic, and finger pointing may not be as fierce or important. Accordingly, we believe that one of the great hidden benefits of D&O insurance is that it tends to defuse internal turmoil and helps maintain management cohesiveness during what is surely a trying time. When D&O insurance is in place and coverage has been accepted, the management team will be able to easily maintain a “stick together” attitude and an “us against them” mentality.

To summarize: We believe D&O insurance is imperative to carry for private companies and their principals.  D&O coverage acts as a solid backstop to mitigate or solve what could be the devastating financial impact of unforeseen business litigation. Litigation can happen at any time from within or from outside any organization.  In a society as litigious as ours, not having D&O insurance creates a serious exposure to the business itself, as well as every member of a company’s management team personally.

Make sure your private company customers, no matter what size or industry, carefully consider the purchase of D&O insurance to ensure that the company, as well as their personal assets, are protected.