News

February 27, 2020

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. #8 (The Good). Thornton Springer v NEM Insurance Co Limited

Welcome to the latest in the series of blogs from Fenchurch Law: 100 Cases Every Policyholder Needs to Know. An opinionated and practical guide to the most important insurance decisions relating to the London / English insurance markets, all looked at from a pro-policyholder perspective.

Some cases are correctly decided and positive for policyholders. We celebrate those cases as The Good.

Some cases are, in our view, bad for policyholders, wrongly decided, and in need of being overturned. We highlight those decisions as The Bad.

Other cases are bad for policyholders but seem (even to our policyholder-tinted eyes) to be correctly decided. Those cases can trip up even the most honest policyholder with the most genuine claim. We put the hazard lights on those cases as The Ugly.

At Fenchurch Law we love the insurance market. But we love policyholders just a little bit more.

#8 (The Good)

The next case selected for consideration from our collection of 100 Cases Every Policyholder Needs to Know is Thornton Springer.

Issues

This case covered the issue of Defence Costs, and more particularly an insurer’s liability for Defence Costs which relate to both insured and non-insured claims, and which are incurred in successfully defending those claims.

Factual background

Thornton Springer was a firm of accountants which sought a declaration that its professional indemnity insurer was liable to indemnify it in defending a claim by a client, who alleged that one of Thornton Springer’s partners had given negligent advice in relation to a company in which that partner had an interest. The client sued both Thornton Springer and the partner. The claim against Thornton Springer was dismissed on the basis that the partner had advised in a private capacity, and not as a partner in Thorton Springer. The issue in the subsequent coverage dispute was whether Thornton Springer could recover the costs it had incurred in defending the claim from its professional indemnity insurer NEM.

Insurance dispute

The relevant clauses in the NEM Policy were:

• The Insuring Clause, which provided that NEM agreed:

“To indemnify the Assured against any claim or claims first made against the Assured during the period of insurance as shown in the Schedule in respect of any Civil liability whatsoever or whensoever arising (including liability for claimants’ costs) incurred in connection with the conduct of any Professional Business carried on by or on behalf of the Assured …” (our emphasis);

• Special Condition 1 which provided that:

“Underwriters shall, in addition, indemnify the Assured in respect of all costs and expenses incurred with their written consent in the defence or settlement of any claim made against the Assured which falls to be dealt with under this certificate …”.

NEM contended that, as the claim against Thornton Springer had been dismissed, it did not fall within the Insuring Clause and therefore Thornton Springer was not entitled to recover Defence Costs (i.e. the obligation to pay Defence Costs, said NEM, only applied to successful claims, not to ones which failed).

Thornton Springer disagreed. It argued that Speical Condition 1 extended to the costs of successfully defending a claim, provided that the claim was one which in substance could fall within the Insuring Clause.

In addition, even if Thornton Springer’s argument were upheld there remained a dispute over the apportionment of defence costs between the claims against the partner (which were not covered under the Policy) and the claims against Thornton Springer (which it alleged were covered under the Policy).

The decision, and the implications for policyholders

The Court found that, while the Insuring Clause itself was not engaged given the dismissal of the claim against Thornton Springer, Special Condition 1 did not require any actual liability on behalf of Thornton Springer. All that was required was for the claim against it to be one which in substance was capable of falling within the Insuring Clause.

In addition, the Court held that, if the work by Thornton Springer’s solicitors had a dual purpose (i.e. it related both to the claim against Thornton Springer and the claim against the partner), the indemnity for defence costs extended to the dual purpose work, and not just to the work which was exclusively for the defence of the claim against Thornton Springer. This followed the principle in New Zealand Products Limited v New Zealand Insurance Co [1997]. Therefore, Thornton Springer was entitled to an indemnity for all the Defence Costs, save where NEM was able to identify work which related exclusively to the claim against the partner.

The Court’s finding in respect of the Defence Costs for a claim which was ultimately unsuccessful is very helpful for policyholders. However, whether or not it applies in a particular case, will depend on the wording of the specific policy in question.

Perhaps of more significance is the Court’s comments regarding the apportionment of defence costs for insured and non-insured claims, and in particular the burden it places on an insurer to show that any costs which it does not wish to pay must relate exclusively to the non-insured claims.

February 20, 2020

Ciara, Dennis and Ellen – an ABC (and CDE) of BI Claims

As storms Ciara, Dennis and now Ellen batter extended parts of the UK, with some areas suffering the worst floods in 200 years, insured losses have already been estimated at £200M and will continue to rise.  For individuals whose homes are damaged the effects can be devastating, but effectively addressed by adequate property insurance.  Businesses may face more complex insurance issues in order to recover losses arising not just from damage to property and machinery, but to the business itself, whose turnover and profits may be reduced or even eliminated in the immediate aftermath of a flood or other severe weather event.  Whilst revenue may take an immediate hit, wages and other overheads must continue to be paid, and in the absence of timely and sufficient financial support, the business’s ability to continue trading may be threatened.

Business interruption cover is therefore an essential component of any business’s property insurance programme. But claims for loss of profit, which must be calculated on a hypothetical basis with many variables, are inevitably complex and drawn out, making Business Interruption claims fertile ground for disputes.

What issues do businesses and their brokers need to consider in order to make sure they are adequately covered and their claims are paid in full?

Wide Area Damage

The notorious issue of wide area damage, following the decision in Orient Express Hotels Ltd v Assicurazioni Generali SPA is a recurrent headache for any insured bringing a BI claim following a catastrophic weather event, and particularly affects those operating in the hospitality industry or other sectors relying on customer footfall. We have previously discussed the merits of the Orient Express case as part of our series “The Good the Bad & the Ugly: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know”  but in summary, the claim was brought by a hotel in New Orleans, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina, leading to its closure for a period of two months. The surrounding area was also devastated by the storms, with the entire city shut down for several weeks.  The court found that the hotel was prevented from recovering its business interruption losses on the basis that they were not caused not just by the damage to property, but by the damage to the wider area.  Even if the hotel had not been damaged, it would have suffered the same loss of profits since New Orleans was effectively closed for several weeks due to widespread flooding.

In our view the approach taken in the Orient Express case is wrong in principle, and represents an unmerited windfall to insurers in catastrophic event circumstances:  the more severe the event, the less insurers pay.  However, until challenged in the higher courts, it remain a potential trap that must be addressed.  Insureds and their brokers should therefore ensure that they have a clear understanding of how any business interruption coverage will respond in the event of a catastrophic weather event that will affect not just the insured property, but the area at large. It is important to ensure that the insuring and trends clauses are drafted as broadly as possible, so as to respond to losses caused by an insured peril, not just those arising directly from damage to insured property. Where possible, Denial of Access, Suppliers and Customers, and Utilities extensions (also known as contingent business interruption cover) should be incorporated – without sublimit – to ensure that loss of profits remains insured even where the business itself suffers no damage to property.

Underinsurance

An apparently straightforward issue, but one that leads to significant reduction of BI recovery perhaps more than any other, is underinsurance.  Reaching the correct value for the sum insured is not a straightforward matter, and is often misunderstood.  For example, Business Interruption losses are often insured on a Gross Profit basis, but care needs to be taken to ensure that the Gross Profit declared to insurers is calculated according to the gross profit definition in the policy wording, which is likely to differ significantly from the method of calculation used by businesses in their internal or published accounts. In particular, wages are not normally included in an accountant’s gross profit figure, but should be included in the insurable Gross Grofit. However not all cover is written on a Gross Profit basis, and alternative specifications (methods of calculation) include Turnover, Gross Revenue, and Increased Costs of Working.  Each of these specification categories appears in many varieties with subtle differences.  A detailed understanding of the cover provided by the insuring clause and specification is therefore vital in order to calculate the correct sum insured, and the advice of insurance brokers in making sure that cover is tailor-made to the business is crucial.

Indemnity Period

Underinsurance in BI claims can arise not just from an inadequate sum insured, but from selecting an insufficient indemnity period.  Businesses must ensure that they insure for an indemnity period that is long enough for the business to recover in catastrophic circumstances.  This will depend on the nature of the business of the question, but will often extend beyond the standard 12-month indemnity period. Likewise, the insured should be aware that any specified waiting period i.e. the period immediately following the insured event, will act as a deductible and remain uninsured.

Delays in Payment

When a business suffers business interruption losses from a catastrophic weather event, time is of the essence in seeking insurers’ immediate engagement with the adjustment of the claim.  Whilst complex business interruption claims may take many months or even years to crystallise, it is critical that interim payments are sought from insurers at the earliest stage.  Without financial support at the time when they most need it, many businesses will struggle to recover.  Additional losses suffered as a result of late payment may now form the basis of a damages claim under the Enterprise Act 2015.  If the business is likely to suffer further loss if insurance proceeds are delayed (whether that be because the business is forced to borrow at high interest rates, or loss of growth or investment opportunity) brokers and insured should ensure that insurers are aware of this as soon as possible in the claims process.  It may affect the behaviour of insurers who wish to avoid potential liability for damages in excess of policy exposure.

Whilst businesses might feel confident that they are fully covered for any BI losses suffered as a result of increasingly frequent flooding and other extreme weather events, there is a complex matrix of issues affecting the recoverability and valuation of losses under the policy, and careful attention needs to be paid to these potential pitfalls by businesses and their brokers both at the time of seeking cover and in the preparation of any claim.

Aaron Le Marquer is a partner at Fenchurch Law, a leading insurance law firm acting exclusively for policyholders against insurers.  He practiced for eight years in Southeast Asia, where he acted on many contested BI claims arising out of the 2011 catastrophic Thai floods, with total value over $700m.

February 18, 2020

Fenchurch Law expands property coverage disputes team

Fenchurch Law, the leading UK firm working exclusively for policyholders and brokers on complex insurance disputes, has appointed Nicola Bowen as an associate in its Property Risks practice group.

Nicola has spent a number of years working in insurance litigation with a specific focus on property related matters. She has acted for leading insurers on first party and liability claims disputes and complex defendant matters. She has also acted jointly for insurers and their insureds in a number of large subrogated recovery actions.

Nicola joins Fenchurch Law from BLM, where she was a solicitor in their property damage team and was previously a property damage solicitor with DAC Beachcroft.

Joanna Grant, partner and head of the Property Risks group practice at Fenchurch Law, said: We are delighted to welcome Nicola whose  dedicated property damage litigation experience expands the coverage disputes capabilities the team can offer our clients.

Nicola Bowen is an associate at Fenchurch Law

February 5, 2020

Fenchurch Law celebrates a hat-trick!

Fenchurch Law, the leading UK firm working exclusively for policyholders and brokers on complex insurance disputes has received its third consecutive ‘gold’ award from customer experience experts, Investor in Customers (IIC).

There were many complimentary comments from their happy clients, some of which included:

• “Fenchurch provide myself, my team and my clients with an excellent service and give an honest and balanced response. I rate them as the best in the business.”

• “Service focused, excellent knowledge, great at communicating sometimes difficult points.”

• “I believe the firm offers a unique service in this market and hence is vital to a number of clients.”

• “The service we receive from Fenchurch Law is second to none so we would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending them to any client – in fact we actively do recommend them.”

• “They offer offer a service that is quick, personable and professional. I would add that they know my industry back to front.”

IIC is an independent assessment organisation that conducts rigorous benchmarking exercises. These exercises determine the quality of client service and relationships across several dimensions, including how well a company understands its clients, how it meets their needs and how it engenders loyalty. IIC also compares the internal views of staff to identify how embedded the client is within the company’s thinking.

Sandy Bryson, Director at Investor in Customers commented: “I am absolutely delighted for the whole Fenchurch Law team. They are rightly thrilled and proud to have achieved a third consecutive IIC Gold award, evidencing that they continue to provide their clients with an exceptional experience. The firm clearly cares deeply about its clients and its employees. The Fenchurch Law management team has embedded a culture of continuous improvement within the firm and they are passionate about making the marginal improvements identified within the IIC report to improve further still. They are a genuine pleasure to work with.”

David Pryce, Managing Partner of Fenchurch Law added: “Providing an exceptional level of client service is something that the whole team at Fenchurch Law cares deeply about. But we know we can always do better, and Investor in Customers give us the insights and the tools to help us keep improving our clients’ experience”.