Monday, February 11, 2013

Insurance Coverage & Broker's Duty

New York's highest Court, the Court of Appeals, has clarified that an insured need not review its policy if it specifically asks the broker for a particular coverage, and has a right to bring an action against the broker for his failure to obtain such coverage, in its decision in American building Supply Corp. v. Petrocelli Group, Inc., which can be read by clicking here.

This is a scary decision because it will become a he said / she said battle of whether the specific coverage was, in fact, requested, which may be done orally, and it eliminates the duty on members of society (individuals and businesses) to read contracts and be presumed to understand its terms - this is a cleaner way for society to exist where one is responsible for his own contracts.

While the Court places the burden on the insured to prove that he requested the specific coverage, it will be hard to ascertain whether the coverage was specifically requested. In fact, the Court is clear to state that a general request does not create a duty in the broker to obtain the coverage. Yet, how specific must the request be? If you have ever spoken to a lay business owner or property owner you know that it's never as specific as you would like. This will become a ripe area for litigation as to whether the request was made and how specific it was made, which seems to require a trial as it will always be a question of fact.

Additionally, what this author thinks is wrong, an insurance broker does not have a duty to recommend coverage that is not requested, which is also a rule that is reaffirmed in this decision.