What’s Next with D&O and COVID-19 Coverage?

Allison Zamani

The principal focus in considering insurance coverage for COVID-19-related losses and liabilities has, thus far, primarily concerned business interruption coverage. But there are many other types of coverage that could come into play as businesses recover. Among the various other types of insurance coverage that could be implicated is Directors & Officers (“D&O”) liability insurance.

In the simplest terms, D&O insurance is meant to protect a company’s directors and officers from claims alleging that a mistake, bad judgment, or other malfeasance in operating a business has caused the business to suffer some form of loss or to incur some form of liability. These various circumstances are embodied in the definitions of what D&O policies refer to as “Wrongful Acts.” A typical “Wrongful Acts” definition includes the breach of a duty, neglect, error, misstatement, misleading statement, omission, or act of a director and/or officer of a company. Securities litigation and, to a more limited extent, regulatory investigations are the classic types of claims that arise from conduct typically encompassed within a “Wrongful Act” definition. There are generally three parts to a D&O policy, called Side A, B, and C coverage. Side A coverage is for “Wrongful Acts” committed by directors and/or officers that the company does not or cannot indemnify. Side B coverage exists to reimburse the company for indemnity payments the company makes on behalf of directors and/or officers for their “Wrongful Acts.” Finally, Side C coverage insures the company itself when it is sued. For public companies, Side C coverage is typically triggered only by securities claims. Privately held companies may be covered for a broader range of claims involving the “Wrongful Acts” of directors and officers. D&O Insurance covers not only indemnity payments but also defense costs, i.e. the costs necessary to respond to any litigation or investigation.

As far as COVID-19 is concerned, decisions that companies have made in order to operate under these difficult circumstances may be called into question as things return to “normal.” For example, companies have had to respond to the challenges of the pandemic and to issue public statements about that response. These actions could potentially prompt securities litigation (direct and derivative securities claims) and class actions to the extent that companies and/or a company’s directors and officers have allegedly failed to respond adequately or have made false statements to shareholders and/or the public. Similarly, a company’s financial reports may come under scrutiny, particularly if the company suffered a substantial loss as a result of COVID-19.

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