Insurer Liability for Retained Counsel’s Malpractice

Frank M. Kaplan

The Hypothetical Facts

Take the following hypothetical: A California company is sued in the Los Angeles Superior Court for personal injuries suffered by the driver of a vehicle that was injured in a crash involving the company’s car. The company has insurance for bodily injury liability. Its insurance company, however, does not believe there is coverage and denies that it has any duty to indemnify its insured. The insurer agrees, however, that it will defend the insured subject to a reservation of rights.

The insurance company retains a lawyer employed by one of its panel firms. The lawyer has litigated personal injury suits for 15 years and appears, at least outwardly, competent to handle the insured’s case.

It turns out, though, that the retained lawyer does a very poor job of defending the insured, failing to take or follow up on critical discovery and missing various deadlines. The insurance company is aware of the lawyer’s incompetent performance, but does nothing about it. As the case approaches trial, the insured settles the case, using $250,000 of its own money and a small amount begrudgingly offered by the insurer. Continue reading “Insurer Liability for Retained Counsel’s Malpractice”

Unenforceable “Policy Interpretation” Provision

Frank M. Kaplan

There are certain immutable truths. For example, we know that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, that the earth is not flat, that coverage grants in an insurance policy are to be interpreted broadly consistent with the insured’s reasonable expectations, and that policy exclusions are to be interpreted narrowly. The latter two, which together with others, are long-held canons of insurance policy interpretation protecting insureds that appear in thousands of court decisions and are not subject to reasonable dispute by lawyers on either side of the insurance coverage bar.

So what happens when an insurer attempts to alter these and other fundamental, bedrock principles of policy interpretation by unilaterally altering them in a form, non-manuscript insurance policy? Must a court abandon decades of settled jurisprudence in favor of policy language that seeks just that result? The answer should be “no.” Continue reading “Unenforceable “Policy Interpretation” Provision”

Wage-and-Hour Policies May Be a Useful Asset to Fill Potential Coverage Gaps

Jared Zola and Frank M. Kaplan

Zola, Jared Kaplan, Frank M.As a wise person once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Anyone who thought wage-and-hour lawsuits would be a short-lived lawsuit du jour of the plaintiffs’ bar have been proven wrong. Claimants filed more than 8,900 FLSA cases in federal court last year, a 30 percent increase from 2011. In light of the continued trend and recent legislation that has the potential to expand liability to individuals acting on an employer’s behalf, employers should take a hard look at the insurance assets available to protect against these potential liabilities.

California’s new statute, the Fair Day’s Pay Act, has the potential to implicate a “person acting on behalf of an employer” to liability for the company’s allegedly improper wage-and-hour practices. Labor Code § 558.1 (eff. Jan. 1, 2016). New York amended its existing Business Corporation Law § 630, effective January 19, 2016, to extend potential liability for unpaid wages to the top 10 shareholders of privately held corporations incorporated in New York and foreign corporations. While employers and individuals are armed with a wide array of defenses, the potential risks warrant a close look at what insurance assets a company has available to offset any potential liabilities in this continuously growing area. Continue reading “Wage-and-Hour Policies May Be a Useful Asset to Fill Potential Coverage Gaps”