John A. Gibbons
The Second Circuit’s June 4, 2013 decision in Ali v. Federal Insurance Co. addresses when and how a policyholder may recover from excess liability insurance policies for future liabilities when underlying insurers are insolvent. (Opinion linked here). A number of insurer-leaning commentators have cast the case as a rethinking of Zeig v. Massachusetts Bonding & Insurance Co., 23 F.2d 665 (2d Cir. 1928), the seminal Second Circuit decision authored by Judge Augustus Hand, which first established the principle that policyholders could recover against excess insurance policies even if the policyholder did not collect the full limits of underlying insurance policies. In Zeig, the Second Circuit rejected an excess insurer’s attempt to walk away from its insurance obligations simply because Mr. Zeig settled his claim against a separate insurance company. Zeig established the principle, recognized by numerous courts since, that a policyholder’s settlement with one insurer does not forfeit the policyholder’s rights against other insurers.
The characterization that the Second Circuit has now called Zeig’s common-sense, and widely recognized principle into question, however, seriously misreads the decision in Ali. To understand Ali—what it does and does not hold—requires an understanding of the issues that were actually ruled on by the district court and affirmed by the Second Circuit. Continue reading “The Second Circuit’s Ali Decision Supports Zeig on Exhaustion of Insurance”
The wheels of justice can turn slowly. This is especially true in litigation about insurance coverage. For large insurance coverage actions such as those seeking insurance for asbestos claims or environmental claims, the case can very well go on for years and years. There is no incentive for an insurance company to shorten that time period because it is holding onto the money while the litigation continues. A cash flow analysis generally shows that it is in the insurance companies’ interest to have the case continue because the amount insurance companies are making on the money they are holding is greater than the cost of their continuing the litigation. We often see insurance companies’ answers to the policyholder’s complaint asserting anywhere from 30 to 50 affirmative defenses. Many of these defenses have little or no basis, but they serve to complicate the action and make it last longer.
The policyholders’ goal should be to get the case to trial. Too often it seems that insurance companies have little interest in settling, except at a deep discount, until the case is close to trial. This is consistent with the insurance companies wanting to hold the money for a longer amount of time. By pushing the case to trial, the policyholder is encouraging the insurance company to settle at a reasonable amount. If the insurance company does not settle, then the policyholder will still have its claim resolved at trial. Continue reading “Keep Your Insurer’s Feet to the Fire to Get Paid”