November 05, 2019
It is no secret that directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance is one of the most convoluted and misunderstood insurance policies in existence.
What is D&O insurance? And if someone were to ask most business executives and non-profit leaders what this insurance covered, would they be able to answer? The statistics say no: The majority of business owners don't know the difference between general liability and D&O insurance.
A 2013 survey by Chubb investigated this knowledge gap and the results show that 65% of participants did not know they needed D&O coverage.
At LandesBlosch, we think D&O insurance provides a great set of coverage that most organizations could greatly benefit from. Similar to how you purchase general liability insurance to protect your organization from liabilities, D&O insurance protects the owners, executives, and leaders from the liabilities of running a business.
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To understand the different exposures that executives have, it's important to know the responsibilities that are required of them.
There are two primary categories of executive responsibility: duty of care and duty of loyalty.
Directors and officers are expected to perform their duties in good faith, at a level of professionalism they reasonably believe to be in the interest of the corporation and with the care that a reasonably prudent person in a similar situation would use under similar circumstances.
Directors and officers are prohibited from using their positions to further or enhance their private interests and are required to refrain from engaging in personal activities which might injure the corporation or compete against the corporation, and may not transact business with the corporation unless the director or officer can demonstrate that the transaction was fair and reasonable to the corporation.
The duties required of today's business leaders have huge ramifications and often fall in a gray area that's up to interpretation. This allows certain conditions that make corporate executives and non-profit leaders particularly vulnerable to risk. That risk isn't limited to the company they work for or own; their personal assets are at risk of being exposed to a interpretative judgment.
Now that we know what's expected of directors and officers, we can understand why they are at such extreme and unique risk. Here are some common allegations we see business leaders face:
This allegation arises from a claim that the executive or board acted in their own self-interest and not in the interest of the organization they lead. Complaints often include making decisions on behalf of the company that are not in the company's best interest, but financially benefit the executive.
This allegation is often referred to as tortious interference with a contract. It is the claim that the business or business executive interfered with a contract they were not part of, causing a breach of contract. This claim often involves allegations of the business interfering with a party's ability to perform the contractual obligation to cause a breach of contract.
An unfair trade practice claim involves an allegation that your business practices are deceitful, fraudulent, or cause harm to the customer. Frequently, these claims arise from how businesses are obtaining customers. Some examples of unfair trade practices could be misrepresentation, false advertising, unethical selling tactics, or deceptive trade practices.
Consumer protection rules are state and federal laws that protect the consumer from fraud and abuse caused by businesses. In general, the Federal Trade Commission regulates and enforces these violations, but that isn't always the case.
Similar to a breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing involves prioritizing yourself or your company's financial goals over the financial goals of clients or shareholders.
This allegation generally arises from an individual benefiting from a transaction that is being executed on behalf of another party.
Breaking a state or federal law might cause financial harm to your shareholders and clients, whether it was intentional or not. In addition to the financial repercussions through fees and lawsuits it can cause reputational damage to the organization.
A government entity filed a criminal indictment against a construction company's directors and officers, alleging conspiracy and bribery. The claim alleged that the company participated in fraudulent activities, resulting in the award of a state contract. The construction company's legal defense costs alone were $4.2 million.
An agricultural supply company had a documented business plan, including a detailed list of actions that management intended to execute in order to profit financially. A minority shareholder invested after reading the plan, but the plan was not executed due to disagreements on the management board. This resulted in lower profits than expected, and the minority shareholder sued for breach of fiduciary duty and misrepresentation. The insurer of the agricultural supply company paid more than $150,000 in defense costs before the case settled for $220,000.
A joint venture between a company and a software developer failed, and the software developer sued the company's directors and officers for misappropriation of intellectual property. The software developer claimed the company used his ideas to develop its own software and create a competing product. The company's insurer paid in excess of $200,000 in defense costs and a $50,000 contribution toward settlement.
Although there are many situations in which D&O insurance would be needed, organizations take out D&O insurance primarily to protect three things:
The personal assets of a company's directors and officers;
The company's assets;
The company from reimbursement costs to indemnify directors and officers for their losses, as well as from defense costs associated with lawsuits and investigations.
Essentially, D&O provides personal asset and balance sheet protection for private companies, public companies, and non-profits organizations (and their leaders).
The D&O policy reads as three separate coverages wrapped into one policy: Side A, Side B, and Side C. Each side protects one of the three items listed above:
Side A - Provides financial protection when the company cannot or will not indemnify the individual directors and officers, such as per a court order.
Side B - Reimburses the company when it indemnifies individual directors and officers.
Side C - Also known as entity coverage, this responds when both individual directors and officers and the company are named as co-defendants. For public companies, this will only apply in the event of a securities lawsuit; it can apply to private companies for other causes of loss, such as employment practices, unless specifically excluded.
In general, D&O policy rates are going up and markets are implementing stricter underwriting requirements. Insurers remain aggressive for select industry types, but are showing a lack of interest for others, such as healthcare.
What you can expect to see on your upcoming D&O policy renewal:
Private companies: 5% to 15% increases, depending on geography
Public companies: 25% increases, with 25% to 35% (or even higher) on accounts with prior losses or difficult financial conditions
D&O insurance for your board is unique and therefore requires a unique policy. At LandesBlosch our goal is to partner you with an insurance carrier that understands what you are doing and knows how to protect your work and mission.
Although many carriers can provide D&O insurance quotes, here are some we recommend for your company or nonprofit.
Philadelphia is a leading insurer of D&O insurance coverage. They have a very broad appetite across industry segments that include nonprofit, private, and public companies. They have an A.M. Best rating of A++ (Superior) with a stable outlook.
Brotherhood Mutual is a specialty insurance carrier that focuses on churches and related ministries. They are a mutual company, which means they are owned by the ministries they insure. They have an A.M. Best rating of A- (Excellent) with a stable outlook. Brotherhood is the premier choice for ministry, church, and university insurance countrywide.
Chubb is a general insurance carrier that focuses on specialty lines within the nonprofit, publically traded, and private company sector. They underwrite coverages such as D&O, EPLI, Crime, and others. They have a A.M. Best rating of A++ (Superior) with a stable outlook.
CNA is a general insurance carrier that underwrites a broad range of insurance coverage. Their management liability offering covers D&O, EPLI, Crime, and fiduciary liability for nonprofits, publically traded, and private companies. They have an A.M. Best rating of A (Excellent) with a stable outlook.
Individual directors' and officers' personal assets will be on the line without coverage.
Companies will have a difficult time attracting qualified individuals to their boards without D&O coverage.
The high cost of defending corporate lawsuits may exceed the net worth of most private companies.
Judgments can be financially crippling.
Bad business decisions are likely to attract the attention of shareholders, regulators, and others.
Directors and officers work in demanding environments and have substantial corporate duties that put them at risk.
Although not every company should purchase directors and officers liability insurance, a lot do. If you and your business are exposed to any of these risks, chances are you might have a large coverage gap - and that coverage gap could affect your personal finances.
Not a LandesBlosch client yet? We're here if you need us. Schedule a free consultation to talk about your insurance with one of our insurance experts.