GCs: How Would YOU Like To Compensate Your Outside Law Firms?

Good lawyers can be bad listeners when it comes to legal fees.  Under ever-increasing pressure to fold more efficiency into the hiring and use of outside law firms, General Counsel are looking for alternatives to a running meter, which counter-incentivizes what clients want most – fast, cost-effective results.  Did I mention fast?   The best and most flexible law firms and lawyers are the ones who are responsive to that.

I’ve handled all kinds of cases, including litigation, under alternative fee arrangements (AFA’s) for years.  Generally, however, they have been arrangements lawyers  have designed and my clients have haltingly approved, or reluctantly agreed to try.   But even that model – the lawyer proposing to the client, amidst the ever – increasing speed of the rate of change in the hiring and use of outside legal counsel, may not be adequate responsiveness to a client’s needs.

What would the ideal fee arrangement be for an insurer’s in-house legal department to have an outside lawyer perform a coverage opinion?  Handle a bad faith case?  Perform a claims file review to do some bad faith preventative maintenance?  What would that look like to General Counsel’s Office?

GC’s and in-house lawyers, what is the best outside counsel fee arrangement for your company ?  That is the question to be asking, and good outside lawyers and law firms will be very interested in the answer.  Email us at  chaddick@dmclaw.com  and describe  YOUR ideal fee arrangement.   None of the responses will be shared unless you would like us to do so.

Looking for ideas on AFA’s?  Stay tuned for the posting of our AFA Resource Page, discussing any number of AFA options for both litigated and non litigated matters.  The options are virtually limitless.   These options can serve either as a pre-packaged deliverable fee arrangement, or a jumping off point to tailor an arrangement to meet your needs.

Best,

CJH

Federal Magistrate Judge Sanctions Insurer for Delayed Production of Draft Coverage Letter; Rules In-House Counsel E-mails Not Privileged

US D. New Jersey, Dec. 30, 2015 – U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio has granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions against Bankers Standard Insurance Company in a bad faith and breach of contract case under a  homeowners’ insurance policy arising out of damage from Superstorm Sandy.   In Zawadsky v. Bankers Standard Insurance (link to full opinion below), the Court made several pronouncements which should be of concern to insurers, and their in house legal departments.

Draft Partial Coverage Letter: Admission of Coverage?

Although Bankers Standard issued a denial letter regarding the insured’s homeowners claim,  there was evidence that a junior adjuster had previously drafted a coverage letter extending partial coverage for the loss.  Judge Donio ruled that the intentional delay in turning the draft letter over was sanctionable under F.R.C.P. 37:

Most importantly, the Draft Partial Coverage Letter — despite Defendant’s assertion to the contrary — is an admission by one claims adjuster that there is coverage under the Policy. The fact that a more senior adjuster trumped that position and directed a flat denial of coverage be issued does not erase this conclusion. Additionally, the concealment of that conclusion — that admission — bespeaks of purposeful conduct that may, after the depositions are conducted, warrant additional sanctions. As noted by Plaintiffs, if it were not for the inadvertent production by Defendant on February 2, 2015 of the unredacted email, Plaintiffs would still not have the Draft Partial Coverage Letter.

(emphasis added).  The Court found the conduct of Bankers Standard Insurance sanctionable in this regard.

Emails Involving In House Counsel:  Lawyers or Claims Investigators?

Judge Donio ruled that Bankers Standard failed to adequately demonstrate that email strings involving in house legal department lawyers sufficiently came under protection for attorney client privilege.  She wrote:

…the timing of these communications supports Plaintiffs’ argument that Defendant’s in-house counsel was part of the investigation of Plaintiffs’ claim and not providing legal advice. The burden is on Defendant to appropriately support its application of the privilege at the time of the motion. Defendant has left it up to the Court to decipher these emails and determine whether in-house counsel is providing legal advice or acting as part of the claims investigation. Defendant has failed to demonstrate that the documents are protected by the attorney-client privilege.

As a result, the Court also ordered production of unredacted emails including communication with in house counsel.

Severity of the Sanction

Rather than granting the sanction requested by the Plaintiff — striking all of the insurer’s substantive defenses and moving directly to a damages trial — Judge Donio issued the lesser sanction of orders compelling production of the documents under dispute, and allowing the Plaintiff to re-open discovery on the issue of the draft partial coverage letter

Takeaways:

  • Bankers Standard was clearly concerned about the presence of a draft partial coverage letter in the same claims file in which a later full denial of coverage letter existed.   They elected to attempt to shield the letter from discovery.  Another option which may have proved the better route would have been to simply disclose the letter as part of the story of the on-going thought process of the claim, which later gave way to a reasonable conclusion, after consultation with senior claims staff and counsel, that there was ultimately no coverage for the loss.   Insurers are not prohibited from a change of mind on a coverage position if the claims investigation supports it.

 

  • This case is a signal example of why the  line of demarcation between claims staff and in-house legal counsel should never be blurred.  Here, Bankers Standard’s  failure to sufficiently articulate to the Court why the in house legal staff performed legal work, rather than claims investigation, sounded the death knell for attorney client privilege in the case.

 

  • The chances of Inadvertent production of privileged material can be reduced by the cross-checking of the production by a second or third pair of eyes in counsel’s office, and can be guarded against by inadvertent disclosure and claw-back discovery agreements, entered into at the outset of the case, along with such things as confidentiality agreements, and consent agreements to protective orders.

Zawadsky v. Bankers Standard Ins. Co., (D. N.J. 2015)

Cyber Liability Insurance Bad Faith Suit Trimmed In Utah

A U.S. District Court Judge in Utah has granted partial summary judgment in favor of Travelers Insurance in a bad faith suit involving a Cyber Liability insurance policy.  U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart of Utah has dismissed portions of a bad faith suit against Travelers, ruling that it has no duty to defend or indemnify its insured, Federal Recovery, in an underlying data breach lawsuit.  The Court found that Travelers’ coverage position was “fairly debatable,” and therefore that the position it took cannot, as a matter  of law, be found to have been taken in bad faith.

The Court denied Traveler’s motion to dismiss that portion of the suit against it relating to Traveler’s intake and handling of the claim, however.  The insured claims that Travelers breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing in allegedly misleading its insured to delay the filing of the claim until it received formal suit papers.   The Court also found there were factual issues relating to whether Travelers  diligently investigated, evaluated, and communicated about the claim to its insured, and denied Travelers’ summary judgment motion as to those claims also.

The Takeaway:   This decision is a textbook example of a jurisdiction in which having a reasonable position to deny coverage to an insured is not the end of the bad faith analysis.  Claims handling (the means), separate and apart from the claims decision (the end), is subject to bad faith scrutiny under this jurisdiction’s bad faith law.  Best claims practices, therefore, should facilitate proper claims decisions being made in conjunction with proper claims handling, from initial intake to final coverage decision.

Travelers v. Fed. Recovery Services (D. Utah 2016)

3rd Circuit Affirms Denial of Remand Motion, Upholds UM/UIM Waiver

In Lieb v. Allstate, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed district court rulings 1.) denying the insured’s remand motion after Allstate removed the case from state court; and 2.) affirming dismissal of breach of contract claims under an automobile insurance policy, finding the insured’s waiver of UM/UIM coverage to be valid under the Pa.M.V.F.R.L.

The district court properly looked to  assessing jurisdictional amount as of the time of the removal, the appeals court found.  At that time, the Plaintiff’s complaint contained a claim for insurance bad faith, thus taking the value of the case in excess of the $75,000 jurisdictional limit.

The appeals court also affirmed the dismissal of the insured’s suit for UM/UIM benefits, finding a signed waiver form in compliance with Pa. law.

Lieb v. Allstate (3rd Cir. 2016)

NJ Gov. Signs Fraudulent COI Bill

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has signed legislation which makes it expressly illegal to request the issuance of certificates of insurance which contain false or misleading information. Click on link below for full text of bill.

New Jersey Bill S-3270

11th Circuit Confirms No Coverage for Yacht Disappearance

In Gamez v. Ace American Insurance Company, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld Ace American’s voiding a policy covering a $32 million yacht after ACE established the insured made material misstatements concerning ownership of the boat in the application for coverage.

The Court held that the insured attempted to confuse two separate sections of a Florida statute covering material misrepresentations, one permitting the voiding of a policy for material misrepresentations in the application, and the other holding that post-coverage misrepresentations would not void coverage unless the misrepresentations were material.

Gamez v. Ace American Insurance Company (U.S. Ct. App., 11th Cir., 2016)

Prevent. Protect. Defend.

Welcome to Badfaithadvisor.com!  Our goal is to serve as an information hub for Insurers and their In-House legal teams to help them navigate current issues in insurance coverage and bad faith.  We will provide case updates, but more importantly practical advice on preventing and avoiding unnecessary exposure in the first instance, and successfully defending against such exposure in the second.

Have a question or request? Send an email to chaddick@dmclaw.com  or give me a call at 717-731-4800, and we will be happy to provide something of interest and value to you.

Best,
CJ Haddick