Insurance Executive

Greenberg Settles Case with New York AG After 12-Year Fight

Starr's CEO and Chairman decries the breadth of New York State's prosecutorial powers.
By: | February 14, 2017 • 3 min read

AIG’s former CEO and CFO settled a civil accounting fraud case last week that spanned 12 years, stretching back to the administration of former New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In settling the case with current NYAG Eric Schneiderman, former AIG Chairman and CEO Hank Greenberg and Howard Smith, AIG’s former CFO, agreed to payments totaling $9.9 million; $9 million on the part of Mr. Greenberg and $900,000 on the part of Mr. Smith.

The case was mediated by noted attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who also mediated between British Petroleum and claimants in BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill and who will also be managing the claimants’ fund connected to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

As part of the settlement, there was no admission of wrongdoing on the part of Greenberg, now the chairman and CEO of the Starr Companies, or Smith.

In a statement released Feb. 9, the New York Attorney General’s office said the $9.9 million represented bonus payments Greenberg and Smith received between 2001 and 2004. Despite the terms of the mediated settlement, the AG’s statement implied that the agreement amounted to an admission of fraud by Greenberg and Smith.

Both men strongly dispute that characterization of the settlement.

At a press conference in New York on February 13, Greenberg’s attorney David Boies, described the payments as nothing more than a “nuisance settlement” given the fact that the NYAG’s office had originally sought some $5 billion in damages.

“The New York Attorney General’s case had totally collapsed at trial,” said Boies.

In all, the civil actions initiated by Spitzer in 2005 amounted to nine separate charges.

One of the last two actions to reach settlement is related to a loss portfolio that AIG received as a reinsurer from Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Cologne Re Dublin in the fourth quarter of 2000. Unbeknownst to Greenberg and other executives at AIG, a portion of the portfolio had already been reinsured elsewhere.

Thus, AIG’s acceptance of the portfolio resulted in an erroneous increase in its loss reserves, since the transaction involved little or no actual risk. An innocent accounting error that they were not aware of, not fraud, Greenberg, Smith and their attorneys argued.

“Nowhere in the agreed statement by Mr. Greenberg is there any reference to any accounting being fraudulent, let alone that Mr. Greenberg was aware of any fraud,” Boies said on Feb. 13.

“There was nothing in those transactions that we knew were wrong when they were done,” Smith added.

The second case, known as the Capco transaction, involved allegations that AIG attempted to confuse investors by equating underwriting losses with investment losses.

“The New York Attorney General’s case had totally collapsed at trial.” — David Boies, attorney for Hank Greenberg

Greenberg’s conflict with Spitzer is a long and painful one and can reasonably be said to have had a substantial impact on the nation’s and the world’s economy.

Under pressure from Spitzer, Greenberg was forced out as Chairman and CEO of AIG in 2005, having spent 40 years with the company.

At the time of Greenberg’s forced resignation, AIG had a presence in more than 130 countries and $180 billion in market capitalization. Three years after Greenberg’s removal, the company’s insurance of credit default swaps resulted in an almost catastrophic failure.  The rest is, literally, history.

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AIG required an $85 billion two-year government loan, which it has since paid back; but it had to sell off key assets to do so.

“AIG is currently a shadow of what it had been,” Greenberg said in a statement released on Feb. 13.

“It was an international asset and no longer is,” Greenberg said.

“It employed over 100,000 people and now it is about half of that.”

Greenberg is pursuing a defamation case against Spitzer for comments Spitzer made about him after leaving the AG’s office in 2006. Spitzer lasted a year as Governor of New York before allegations that he consorted with prostitutes drove him out of that office.

Greenberg also spoke out at the press conference in opposition to New York’s Martin Act, which gives state prosecutors broad powers to prosecute business leaders without having to prove fraudulent intent.

“That law should be changed, it should be knocked out,” Greenberg said.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Robotics Risk

Rise of the Cobots

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are rapidly expanding in the workforce due to their versatility. But they bring with them liability concerns.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 5 min read

When the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto hired mobile collaborative robots to bolster security patrols, the goal was to improve costs and safety.

Once the autonomous robotic guards took up their beats — bedecked with alarms, motion sensors, live video streaming and forensics capabilities — no one imagined what would happen next.

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For some reason,  a cobots’ sensors didn’t pick up the movement of a toddler on the sidewalk who was trying to play with the 5-foot-tall, egg-shaped figure.

The 300-pound robot was programmed to stop for shoppers, but it knocked down the child and then ran over his feet while his parents helplessly watched.

Engaged to help, this cobot instead did harm, yet the use of cobots is growing rapidly.

Cobots are the fastest growing segment of the robotics industry, which is projected to hit $135.4 billion in 2019, according to tech research firm IDC.

“Robots are embedding themselves more and more into our lives every day,” said Morgan Kyte, a senior vice president at Marsh.

“Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

When traditional robots joined the U.S. workforce in the 1960s, they were often assigned one specific task and put to work safely away from humans in a fenced area.

Today, they are rapidly being deployed in the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly, machine tooling and health care industries due to their ability to function in tandem with human co-workers.

More than 24,000 robots valued at $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies last year, according to the RIA.

Cobots Rapidly Gain Popularity

Cobots are cheaper, more versatile and lighter, and often have a faster return on investment compared to traditional robots. Some cobots even employ artificial intelligence (AI) so they can adapt to their environment, learn new tasks and improve on their skills.

Bob Doyle, director of communications, Robotic Industry Association

Their software is simple to program, so companies don’t need a computer programmer, called a robotic integrator, to come on site to tweak duties. Most employees can learn how to program them.

While the introduction of cobots into the workplace can bring great productivity gains, it also introduces risk mitigation challenges.

“Where does the problem lie when accidents happen and which insurance covers it?” asked attorney Garry Mathiason, co-chair of the robotics, AI and automation industry group at the law firm Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco.

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways,” Marsh’s Kyte said.

“The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions.”

If something goes amiss, exposure may fall to many different parties:  the manufacturer of the cobot, the software developer and/or the purchaser of the cobot, to name a few.

Is it a product defect? Was it an issue in the base code or in the design? Was something done in the cobot’s training? Was it user error?

“Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways.” — Morgan Kyte, senior vice president, Marsh

Is it a workers’ compensation case or a liability issue?

“If you get injured in the workplace, there’s no debate as to liability,” Mathiason said.

But if the employee attributes the injury to a poorly designed or programmed machine and sues the manufacturer of the equipment, that’s not limited by workers’ comp, he added.

Garry Mathiason, co-chair, robotics, AI and automation industry group, Littler Mendelson PC

In the case of a worker killed by a cobot in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2015, the worker’s spouse filed suit against five of the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine.

“It’s going to be unique each time,” Kyte said.

“The issue that keeps me awake at night is that people are so impressed with what a cobot can do, and so they ask it to do a task that it wasn’t meant to perform,” Mathiason said.

Privacy is another consideration.

If the cobot records what is happening around it, takes pictures of its environment and the people in it, an employee or customer might claim a privacy violation.

A public sign disclosing the cobot’s ability to record video or take pictures may be a simple solution. And yet, it is often overlooked, Mathiason said.

Growing Pains in the Industry

There are going to be growing pains as the industry blossoms in advance of any legal and regulatory systems, Mathiason said.

He suggests companies take several mitigation steps before introducing cobots to the workplace.

First, conduct a safety audit that specifically covers robotics. Make sure to properly investigate the use of the technology and consider all options. Run a pilot program to test it out.

Most importantly, he said, assign someone in the organization to get up to speed on the technology and then continuously follow it for updates and new uses.

The Robotics Industry Association has been working with the government to set up safety standards. One employee can join a cobot member association to receive the latest information on regulations.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about this technology and people see so many things that could go wrong,” Mathiason said.

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“But if you handle it properly with the safety audit, the robotics audit, and pay attention to what the standards are, it’s going to be the opposite; there will be fewer problems.

“And you might even see in your experience rating that you are going to [get] a better price to the policy,” he added.

Without forethought, coverage may slip through the cracks. General liability, E&O, business interruption, personal injury, cyber and privacy claims can all be involved.

AIG’s Lexington Insurance introduced an insurance product in 2015 to address the gray areas cobots and robots create. The coverage brings together general and products liability, robotics errors and omissions, and risk management services, all three of which are tailored for the robotics industry. Minimum premium is $25,000.

Insurers are using lessons learned from the creation of cyber liability policies and are applying it to robotics coverage, Kyte said.

“The robotics industry has been very safe for the last 30 years,” RIA’s Doyle said. “It really does have a good track record and we want that to continue.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]