Directors and officers liability insurance
Directors and officers liability Insurance (often called D&O) is liability insurance payable to the directors and officers of a company, or to the organization(s) itself, as indemnification (reimbursement) for losses or advancement of defense costs in the event an insured suffers such a loss as a result of a legal action brought for alleged wrongful acts in their capacity as directors and officers. Such coverage can extend to defense costs arising out of criminal and regulatory investigations/trials as well; in fact, often civil and criminal actions are brought against directors/officers simultaneously.
It has become closely associated with broader management liability insurance, which covers liabilities of the corporation itself as well as the personal liabilities for the directors and officers of the corporation.
The insurance is closely related to corporate governance, corporations law, and the fiduciary duty owed to shareholders or other beneficiaries. Under the United States business judgment rule, the directors and officers are granted broad discretion in their business activities. In the United States, corporate law is typically at the state level; corporations are often domiciled in Delaware (with one estimate at 97% of corporations domiciled in either their home state or Delaware), due to its developed corporate law and tax benefits; Publicly traded companies are subject to more federal claims, particularly due to the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
In the United States, the articles of association often includes an indemnification provision holding the officers harmless for losses occurring due to their role in the company. The purchased insurance is typically in addition to this corporate indemnification, or reimburses the corporation. In some states corporations may be mandated to indemnify directors and officers in order to encourage people to take the positions and in most cases the corporations have the option to indemnify their officers. However, in certain cases the corporation may be explicitly forbidden from indemnifying such director or officer. Liabilities which aren't indemnified by the corporation are potentially covered by certain types of D&O insurance (particularly Side-A Broad Form DIC policies).
The insurance was first marketed in the 1930s by Lloyd's but into the 1960s the volume sold was "negligible". Corporations began to allow for corporate indemnification in the 1940s and 1950s, and the 1960s "merger mania" was followed by costly litigation. In the 1980s, the United States experienced a "D&O crisis" along with the overall liability crisis, with increased premiums, reduced availability, and numerous additional exclusionary clauses in the insurance policy. Due to changes in securities laws in the 1960s, the insurance was sold primarily based on the concerns of directors & officers of "personal financial protection" (protecting personal rather than corporate assets), but the coverages have evolved so that personal and corporate indemnification are both considered. The 1995 decision of the 9th Circuit in Nordstrom, Inc. v. Chubb & Son, Inc. resulted in the emphasis in "Side C" (corporate entity) coverage. The decision resolved an "allocation problem" of how to allocate costs between individual insureds, as the corporation was typically not insured while individuals were. There is no standard D&O form, but each has shared a similar outline.
Under the "traditional" D&O policy applied to "public companies" (those having securities trading under national securities exchanges etc.), there are three (3) insuring clauses. These insuring clauses are termed: Side-A or "non-indemnified"; Side-B; or "indemnified"; and Side-C; "entity securities coverage". D&O policies may also provide an additional Side-D clause, which provides for a sublimit for investigative costs coverage related to a shareholder derivative demand. In detail, the coverage clauses provide the following:
- Side-A provides coverage to individual directors and officers when not indemnified by the corporation as a result of state law or financial capability of the corporation; however, exclusions may apply if a corporation simply refuses to pay the legal defense/loss of a director or officer, or if a bankruptcy court issues an order preventing such indemnification
- Side-B provides coverage for the corporation (organizations) when it indemnifies the directors and officers (corporate reimbursement)
- Side-C provides coverage to the corporation (organizations) itself for securities claims brought against it (NOTE: securities claims only coverage applies to publicly traded companies and large private companies; small private companies may be able to obtain broader "entity" coverage)
More extensive coverage can be obtained for individual directors and officers under a Broad Form Side-A DIC ("Difference in Conditions") policy purchased to not only provide excess Side-A coverage but also to fill the gaps in coverage under the traditional policy, respond when the traditional policy does not, protect the individual directors and officers in the face of U.S. bankruptcy courts deeming the D&O policy part of the bankruptcy estate and otherwise more fully protect the personal assets of individual directors and officers.
The types of claims are dependent upon the nature of the company. Directors and officers of a corporation may be liable if they damage the corporation in breach of their legal duty, mix personal and business assets, or fail to disclose conflicts of interest. State law may protect the directors and officers from liability (particularly exculpatory provisions under state law relating to directors). Even innocent errors in judgment by executives may precipitate claims.
The types of claims are dependent upon the nature of the corporation. For public companies, claims are primarily due to lawsuits by shareholders after financial difficulties, with a 2011 Towers Watson survey finding that 69% of publicly traded companies had claimed for a shareholder lawsuit in the past 10 years as opposed to 21% of private companies. Other claims arise from shareholder-derivative actions, creditors (particularly after entering the zone of insolvency), customers, regulators (including those that would bring civil and criminal charges), and competitors (for anti-trust or unfair trade practice allegations). For nonprofits, claims are typically related to employment practice and less commonly regulatory or other fiduciary claims. For private companies, claims are often from competitors or customers for antitrust or deceptive business practices and one survey of 451 executives found that lawsuits cost an average of $308,475.
Purchase and application
D&O insurance is usually purchased by the company itself, even when it is for the sole benefit of directors and officers. Reasons for doing so are many, but commonly would assist a company in attracting and retaining directors. Where a country's legislation prevents the company from purchasing the insurance, a premium split between the directors and the company is often done, so as to demonstrate that the directors have paid a portion of the premium. Problems related to income tax liability may come into play when a corporation avoids country specific liability law in order to protect its individual directors and officers through insurance.
If the company fails to disclose material information or willfully provides inaccurate information, the insurer may avoid payment due to misrepresentation. The "severability clause" in the policy conditions may be intended to protect against this; however, in certain jurisdictions it may be ineffective.
Criminal acts exclusion
Intentional illegal acts or illegal profits are typically not covered under D&O insurance policies; coverage would only extend to "wrongful acts" as defined under the policy, which may include certain acts, omissions, misstatements while acting for the organization. Due to exclusions and as a matter of public policy, coverage is not provided for criminal fraud.
Motivation and controversy
Directors and officers insurance is provided so that competent professionals can serve as supervisors of organizations without fear of personal financial loss. Directors are typically not managing the day-to-day operations of the organization and therefore cannot ensure that the organization will be successful; further, business is inherently risky. Thus the business judgment rule has developed to shield directors in most instances.
However, insuring negligence in supervising organizations, or wrongful acts and misrepresentation in financial statements is controversial due to its effect on accountability. In the United States, corporate boards have a "duty of care", but if personal financial consequences for violating that duty of care are lacking, the boards may not perform proper due diligence. In the famous case of Smith v. Van Gorkom (1985), the Delaware Supreme Court found a board grossly negligent and therefore liable. The decision created a backlash and a statute change in Delaware which allowed a corporation to amend its charter to eliminate directors' personal liability for violation of the duty of care; a version of this statute has been passed in all states, and most large corporations have such an "exculpatory clause".
In some cases scholars propose that the risk of personal liability for corporate officers be increased.
The leaders in the provision of Directors & Officers Liability Insurance include: AIG, Chubb Corp., The Travelers Companies, ACE Limited, XL Group, Zurich Financial Services, Allianz via Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, HCC Insurance Holdings, The Hartford, and CNA Financial (among many others).
In the United Kingdom the majority of contracts are facilitated on behalf of policyholders by intermediary brokers. Leading players in this field include Aon, Marsh, Willis, Howden and the Lark Group.
Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company managed by Warren Buffett, does not purchase D&O insurance for its directors, unlike most similar companies. Warren Buffett believes that the directors should face consequences of their mistakes the way that other shareholders do. Notably, however, this statement overlooks the holding-company structure of Berkshire Hathaway, auxiliary indemnification agreements with Buffett, and the individual operating companies may still purchase such insurance.
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