As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, the directors and officers of public and private organizations are facing risks on two fronts: the economic impacts of COVID-19 and litigation. Adding to the challenge is a hardening insurance marketplace.
D&O liability insurance was already undergoing a market correction before the pandemic, after years of poor results and growth in claims. The uncertainties that COVID-19 is bringing to all sectors of the economy will undoubtedly lead to further changes – not only in the form of higher rates, but also tighter terms and conditions, as well as additional exclusions.
These trends will make navigating a complex line of coverage even more challenging, but they are not unprecedented. D&O insurers similarly tightened their underwriting during the financial crisis in 2008, then eased coverage restrictions after the global recession ended.
Times of crisis historically make directors and officers more frequent targets of litigation, as plaintiffs scrutinize organizations’ decisions. Generally, D&O allegations tend to fall into three categories: disclosures, particularly for public companies; mismanagement, especially when companies post results or their share prices drop precipitously; and insolvency. Even when a lawsuit is found to have no merit, organizations still must defend it, and those expenses can quickly mount.
D&O LAWSUITS OVER COVID-19
The Securities and Exchange Commission has encouraged public companies to disclose the impact of the coronavirus on their operations and financial condition, even as the SEC notes the future impact is uncertain. But public statements can get companies into hot water, as recent litigation shows.
Several lawsuits naming organizations and their directors and officers have already been filed with allegations relating directly to the coronavirus pandemic.1 A sampling of lawsuits include class actions against:
- Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. In March, plaintiffs filed a federal securities lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the cruise line made false and misleading statements about the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s operations and business prospects. The lawsuit also cited media reports of leaked internal memos directing the cruise line’s sales staff to lie about the coronavirus.2
- Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. Also in March, plaintiffs filed a securities lawsuit alleging the biotechnology company made false and misleading statements that it had designed a vaccine for COVID-19 in three hours. A research firm called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Inovio’s statement, suggesting it was “ludicrous and dangerous.”3