The Law

Legal Spotlight

A look at the latest court decisions impacting the insurance industry.
By: | February 20, 2018 • 6 min read

Insurer Must Pay for Hail Storm Damage

A hail storm pelted apartment complex Grand Reserve one wintry March morning. Wind and hail stones wreaked havoc on the 55-building complex. Nine months later, when the complex was able to understand the full scope of the damage done, it filed a claim with its insurer.

Property-Owners Insurance Co. then spent the next seven months investigating the claim. In the end, the insurer decided to cover $159,000 for damages done to the roof and an additional $46,700 in depreciation costs once repairs were made.

Grand Reserve retained an independent adjustor named Brian Dansby, who estimated the complex sustained at least $1.3 million in damages. Property-Owners offered $26,700 for wind and hail damage but refused to pay any more for damages done to the complex buildings’ roofs.

Grand Reserve sued Property-Owners, stating that the insurer’s payments thus far had been “extremely disproportionate” to the total amount of actual loss the complex faced. At trial, the jury rendered a $552,000 verdict for the complex.

Property-Owners filed an appeal. It claimed that Dansby was inaccurate in his assessment of the damages done to the complex’s buildings. The insurer also called into question the validity of the adjustor’s qualifications and methodology during his assessment of damages.

According to Property-Owners, the initial trial abused its discretion when it allowed Dansby to testify. The court had not acted as the “gatekeeper to ensure that speculative and unreliable opinions do not reach the jury.”


In addition to the faulty testimony, Property-Owners said, the complex had failed to introduce sufficient evidence of the damages done by the hail storm to its facilities.

The appellate court did not agree: “Property-Owners argues that Dansby offered ‘at best’ speculative evidence of damages, but its attacks on Dansby’s credibility and the accuracy of his estimate are misplaced because ‘we have stressed’ that ‘[i]t is the jury’s task — not [the court’s] — to weigh conflicting evidence and inferences, and determine the credibility of witnesses,’ ” the court said.

Further, the court reminded Property-Owners that the adjustor in question had been in the business for 26 years and performed more than 1,000 roof assessments in his career. The court ruled in favor of Grand Reserve.

Scorecard: Property-Owners Insurance Co. will cover up to $552,000 in repairs to Grand Reserve’s roofs, which were damaged in a hail storm.

Takeaway: If an insurer does not believe it should have to pay for damages to its insured’s property, it is best practice to write exclusions into the policy before a claim is brought forth. Otherwise, any ancillary argument against payment might not hold up in court.

Worker Can’t Petition for Comp Reinstatement

In 2009, worker Wilner Dorvilus filed a workers’ comp claim petition alleging he sustained a work-related injury while packing machine parts onto a cart. While packing his cart, another cart hit him in his lower back, which left him with a lumbosacral strain and sprain.

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Judge granted the claim petition, calling for medical and disability compensation from the worker’s employer, Cardone Industries. Dorvilus’s employer appealed to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, which affirmed the judge’s assessment but reversed the award of disability benefits.

Dorvilus petitioned for review, but the court affirmed the board’s decision.

In 2013, Cardone Industries filed a termination petition that stated Dorvilus’s injury had fully recovered, but was denied the petition because Dorvilus was able to provide enough evidence that he needed continued medical treatment.

Keeping an accurate record of each ruling can work in favor of the insurer if a claimant tries to challenge a former ruling.

On July 21, 2013, Dorvilus received his final disability compensation payment.

Then, two years later, Dorvilus filed for a reinstatement petition. According to him, his injury had worsened and caused him a loss of earnings. Cardone Industries was not willing to pay. The employer moved to dismiss the petition, because Dorvilus had not received disability for two years.


Dorvilus argued that his petition was well within the three-year deadline, but the employer argued that Dorvilus was never entitled to any wage loss compensation. He received disability compensation for his injury, but the courts revoked the award of wage-loss compensation.

“[Dorvilus] proved a work injury, but he did not prove that it caused a disability. He cannot now seek reinstatement after the three-year statute of limitations has run, based upon his collection of compensation payments reversed on appeal. For these reasons, we affirm the Board,” wrote the judge.

Scorecard: Wilner Dorvilus’s benefits will not be reinstated. Cardone Industries will not have to continue to pay on the injured worker’s disability compensation.

Takeaway: Long-lasting claims may face more than one court hearing. Keeping an accurate record of each ruling can work in favor of the insurer if a claimant tries to challenge a former ruling.

Negligence Suit Results in Split Decision

Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc. manufactured a faulty car seat that, when involved in a crash, caused a child to be permanently disabled. The parents filed suit.

Schiff Hardin, LLP represented Dorel in the suit against the parents and was the primary contact for Dorel’s excess insurer, Ironshore Europe DAC.

Ironshore was concerned that the case might result in an award or settlement in excess of $6 million, which is when the excess carrier’s policy would kick in.

According to Ironshore, Schiff seemed optimistic. They told Ironshore the trial was going “pretty well” among other affirmative sentiments that predicted a positive outcome.

Yet, Dorel was hit with a $34 million verdict. Ironshore immediately sued Schiff for negligent misrepresentation, blindsided by the court’s decision. The insurer claimed that Schiff falsely “predicted the future” and made Dorel’s trial seem less pressing an issue than it was.

Additionally, Ironshore also alleged Schiff withheld critical information regarding the developments of the lawsuit, which led the insurer to believe its excess policy was not at risk.

Schiff filed to dismiss Ironshore’s claims. Schiff claimed that it had attorney immunity under Texas law, which states that attorneys are allowed “to advise their clients and interpose any defense or supposed defense, without making themselves liable for damages.”


The judge reviewing the case said, “Even if [Schiff’s statements during trial] were the sort of misrepresentations that could give rise to liability … [Ironshore] has not alleged facts showing that it would have been reasonable for Ironshore to rely on Schiff’s assessment that trial ‘was fine’ or that it ‘went pretty well’ in determining whether the jury might award a particular sum of money.”

In regards to omission, however, “Ironshore has alleged that statements made by Schiff were either misleading when made or became misleading based on a failure to disclose subsequent developments. This is adequate to state a claim for negligent misrepresentation.” Ironshore’s suit was allowed to proceed.

Scorecard: The one claim stating Schiff provided negligent misrepresentation in regards to predicting the future was thrown out. However, the court determined negligent misrepresentation partially stands, because Schiff failed to disclose important information during Dorel’s trial.

Takeaway: Insurers that don’t want to get hit with an unexpected bill should be clear upfront on their expectations for communication with counsel. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.


Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.

R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.


We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?


Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.


Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.


More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]