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Insurance — Do You Know What’s in Your Bank’s Policies?
Thursday, February 29, 2024

There are many different types of insurance — directors and officers (D&O), employment practices liability (EPLI), and general liability, to name a few. Unfortunately, many clients do not know what is in their policy or policies, including what is covered, their deductibles or retention, or, in some unfortunate cases, that they have no policy at all.

This article attempts to help you answer some simple questions about what to look for when you are buying a policy and what to look for in a current policy when you need to use it. It is not an attempt to promote any particular policy, as each policy has to be read in light of the specific facts at issue.

Buying the cheapest — you may get what you pay for.

In too many cases, we find that clients have simply purchased the cheapest policy they can find. The reasons for this vary. Maybe the client asked for the cheapest policy, maybe the agent simply got the client the cheapest policy, or maybe there was no real conversation at all between the insured (client) and the agent except to “get some insurance.”

This is never an issue — until it is. By way of example, let’s say a lawsuit is filed against you that should kick in your D&O or EPLI policy. You then turn the lawsuit over to your agent for defense and coverage. And then, one of several increasingly common scenarios occurs. You discover that your deductible or retention is very high, e.g., the first $100,000 is on you. Or you discover that many employment cases could be resolved or dismissed for less than that, and that for a little more on the front end, you could have had a lower deductible. Or you discover that what you purchased does not cover alleged fiduciary breaches by your directors and officers, and you could have purchased that coverage if you had asked.

You also might discover that you could have purchased, for a small additional amount, wage and hour coverage that would have covered the overtime lawsuit you were just served, but no one ever specifically talked with the agent about that. You also might discover that the attorney you have worked with for years will not be able to handle the case because there is no “choice of counsel” in the policy. In many cases, spending 30 minutes with your agent (and probably an attorney who has experience working with you) could have resolved these issues — that now are out of your control.

The point is, spending the necessary time with your agent (and attorney) is something that should be done before any policy is purchased or renewed. This allows you to express what you want and consider the options available. It also allows you to avoid issues such as not being able to use the attorney of your choice.

Do you have a claims-made or an occurrence policy?

While each policy and case must be examined individually, generally, an occurrence policy covers claims arising from acts or incidents that occurred during the policy period. This means that if the incident occurred during the policy period and the policy was in effect and in good standing, the claim will be covered, even if you get sued over that incident after the policy has expired.

Claims-made policies are entirely different animals. Claims-made policies generally cover only claims made during the policy period. The claim must also be reported to the insurer as required by the policy.

Generally, claims-made policies are cheaper, as they usually provide coverage for a shorter period of time. Again, however, be aware of “going cheap.” Claims-made policies that are not renewed or are canceled — and for which tail coverage is not purchased — can create exposure for an incident that occurred during the policy period. This can happen, for example, if you simply let the policy lapse and a year or so later someone files a suit against you that would have been a “claim” under your claims-made policy but it was not reported when the policy was effective. It can also occur if you change insurers.

The above is a very general description, and any discussion about the type of policy you should buy or what to do when you renew is beyond the scope of this article, but you should absolutely consult with your agent (and likely your attorney) about any specific needs or concerns you know of prior to purchasing or renewing any policy.

Do you have coverage and defense, or just defense?

Be aware that some policies provide for attorney’s fees and costs to defend claims made against you as well as coverage for any settlement or judgment against you. Some policies, however, only provide for attorney’s fees and costs. Again, this goes to what type of policy you want, what you can afford, and knowing the risks of what you have versus what you do not have.

I have had the unfortunate situation where a client thought they had a policy providing coverage and defense, but the policy provided only defense. The matter involved multiple plaintiffs and conflicting witness testimony that made dismissal of the case prior to any trial impossible. While the resolution of the case was not substantially out of line for the average federal court employment case, the money came directly from the client’s pocket because the policy only provided for defense costs, not coverage for any settlement or verdict. When questions arose about why that type of policy was provided by the agent, it was clear the client had only told the agent to “get some insurance” and made no specific requests.

To sum up, it is unfortunately common that when purchasing insurance of any kind, insureds do not actively engage their agent (or ask for any advice from their attorney) about what types of policies and coverage they may need. This creates many issues (deductible, choice of counsel, lack of coverage, etc.) that likely could have been avoided. There is no guarantee that any issue could be avoided, as no one knows what type of claim or claims might be made in the future, but spending the necessary time on the front end could save many headaches on the back end if your agent gets as much specificity as possible from you.

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