I recently attended the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel’s 2011 Insurance Industry Institute. Insurance class actions were not a significant focus of the program, but there were a few points worthy of mention:
- The Insurance Regulatory Landscape: There was a panel discussion on the changing regulatory landscape impacting the industry. The panelists included representatives of the insurance departments in New York, Missouri and DC, as well as representatives of AIA and PCIAA. The focus was on the new Federal Insurance Office and whether federal regulation of insurance will expand in the coming years. The consensus was that this will be a slow, gradual process. I asked, if insurers were to move towards increased use of arbitration following AT&T v. Concepcion, how the panel thought regulators might view that. It appeared that this was not an issue they had given much thought to yet. One panelist suggested that some insurance departments may not be comfortable with insurers forcing individuals into arbitrations. Another panelist noted that arbitration may not be what insurers want given the potential for increased cost and less ability to predict outcomes.
- Microinsurance: There was an interesting discussion on microinsurance, including an effort by SwissRe to sell low-cost, small-value agricultural insurance to low income consumers in Africa. Companies may see this as a way to do some good for impoverished people as well as develop and grow a new insurance market. (For more on microinsurance, see a recent Oxfam press release as well as the Microinsurance Centre.) It seems clear that there is a huge potential untapped market for selling insurance to individuals in underdeveloped countries, and this may help people improve their livelihoods, but there are various regulatory and cultural obstacles to selling microinsurance. The countries where these products can be sold can have unstable governments and difficult regulatory systems, as well as consumers who have a general distrust for insurance companies. From the litigation perspective, it seems critical to understand the legal system in the country where an insurer is contemplating selling these policies. Given that the amounts at stake on claims necessarily would be small, an insurer likely would have serious litigation risk only if the courts have a class action mechanism, or bad faith law that could allow for recoveries in lawsuits much larger than the amount of insurance.
- Attorney-Client Privilege Outside the U.S.: David Steiger gave a very interesting presentation about how the law on the attorney-client privilege varies widely outside of the United States. Many other countries do not have a privilege as robust as ours, particularly with respect to recognizing a privilege between in-house counsel and businesspersons at a company. Some countries also may not recognize any cross-border privilege between businesspersons in one jurisdiction and in-house or outside lawyers from other countries who are not licensed in the applicable jurisdiction. For insurers with global operations, this can potentially create significant issues where, for example, U.S.-based and U.S.-admitted lawyers are managing issues or litigation overseas. Steiger suggested that this might also create issues if electronic files pertinent to U.S. matters are being stored overseas due to outsourcing.
- Data Breach Class Actions: A panel discussion on privacy laws and cyber-related coverages for data breaches highlighted in my mind how that is a significant new area of class action exposure for insurers, in two different ways. First, insurers that suffer a loss of electronic personal data regarding their insureds could face class actions brought against them, although I am not aware of any significant ones to date. Second, insurers that provide insurance coverage for data breaches could find themselves defending a significant number of class actions brought against their insureds. These are cases in which, due to the nature of the event, class certification seems potentially more likely, although there may be statutory defenses as well as defenses based on a lack of injury, or whether there was injury may depend on a case-by-case analysis. This is an area in which insurers (and their insureds) may be able to take proactive steps to reduce class action exposure by ensuring that they are up to date on the law in all applicable jurisdictions and ready to respond swiftly to these events when they occur. It also may be worth thinking about what steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of class certification in the event that this type of class action is brought. For more on this, see a recent piece on the Lexblog Network and the blog posts cited therein discussing a recent First Circuit decision.