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September 2018


The Professional Liability Committee is off to a good start with great input from Vice-Chairs Oscar Cabanas, Caroline Berdzik, Ashley Campbell, Beth McMillan, Neil Ekblom and Gerald Toner.   For those of you who will be at the I-3 Meeting in Philadelphia, we are planning to grab drinks after the cocktail reception Sunday evening, just to say hello and talk about plans for our section.  Please join us!  

On October 5, 2017, less than a year ago, the New York Times first published detailed allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.  Five days later, the New Yorker followed with its own story, which included allegations by 13 more women.  Within weeks, the Weinstein scandal snowballed into a global trend: a cascade of allegations against powerful men in media, politics, business, and law. The trend continues: CBS CEO Les Moonves resigned today and CBS agreed to donate $20 million dollars to organizations that support the #MeToo movement. 

The legal community has responded to this increased awareness of workplace harassment.  We developed and taught presentations, recommended more robust reporting mechanisms and hotlines, and initiated mandatory training seminars for ourselves and our clients.  I question, however, whether we, and our clients, need to do more to be fully equipped to respond to this movement.  The ripple effects of #MeToo may require a fundamental pivot in our defense strategy,  not just in employment and sexual misconduct cases, but in any case in which we need, however delicately, to suggest complicity on behalf of the plaintiff or claimant.  This movement originated in the media and entertainment industry, so in this media and entertainment obsessed age, it affects people that our jurors know, or at least think that they know.  Regardless of how many CEOs, priests, physicians, or congressmen are forced to resign, their resignations and scandals will never resonate with and empower jurors the way allegations against once-beloved celebrities like Matt Lauer or Kevin Spacey do.  What does this have to do with Professional Liability?  Spoiler Alert:  we are planning a program on this issue and the broader implications of the #MeToo movement for the Idaho seminar next July. 

#MeToo also raises insurance coverage considerations for our firms, our clients, and the agents and brokers who advise them.  We should review of employer liability policy terms for sexual misconduct exclusions, and consider whether those exclusions contain non-imputation clauses.   It requires a review of the policy limits and the associated SIR or deductible, and an understanding of “loss”, batch and “related wrongful acts” clauses.  If a single person harasses multiple employees, will this be considered a single act or multiple wrongful acts, and are these acts related or unrelated for purposes of limits?   How will insureds and carriers respond if the SIR is $25,000 and will the response differ if the SIR is $250,000 or more?  In addition, because many EPLI policies are claims made policies, which include a defense within limits, the defense costs could easily erode the entire policy limit, particularly if multiple claims are asserted.  Does the policy contain a defense outside limits endorsement? 

Clients purchase EPLI coverage with the assumption that a single claim would be a rarity, and multiple claims within a single policy year would be unheard of.  Are these still valid assumptions?  Finally, most EPLI policies have retroactive dates, so expect an inquiry about early knowledge or notice of the claim.  Coverage may be affected if evidence developed in the underlying case reveals early reports of misconduct, particularly if the reports predate the retroactive date in the policy.   Expect a comparison of the retroactive date with the alleged reports of misconduct and a critical review of the policy application and accompanying questionnaires for accuracy.  D & O policies have also been triggered by the corporate liability, stock drop, and securities claims that can result particularly from sexual harassment claims against high-profile officers or employees.  Board members face increased pressure to identify patterns of conduct within the company and take corrective action.  

These are but a few of the coverage issues that our clients may face in the next year.   We will be exploring these and other issues within the next few months, so stay tuned for our section meeting in Sun Valley.  Meanwhile, welcome to our section – we look forward to working with you in 2018-2019! 


April 2018

Submitted by: Michael J. Denning



FDCC lawyers are defense lawyers and defense leaders. FDCC lawyers are trial lawyers. Fundamentally, we are story tellers. I was reminded of that while attending the FDCC’s inaugural Tech-U program in Philadelphia over the weekend of April 6-8, 2018. Tech-U was an ambitious project, with the goal of teaching its students to learn to use the most advanced technology in trial presentations, mediations, depositions and other presentations in a compressed time period of just a few days. Led by Bob Christie, and with the assistance of instructors Jack Delaney, Steve Embry, and Scott Kreamer, the group learned to master presentation by iPad. As students, we prepared opening statements and closing arguments in a fictional case, using no fewer than 7 pieces of technology for each. The students learned to use 3D timelines, TrialPad, advanced PowerPoint and Keynote applications, document management applications and numerous other “tech” to deliver compelling presentations, which were later broken down and studied by the whole group to foster an intense but valuable educational process. The power of the collective experience of the lawyers, paralegals and other support personnel was, in this writer’s experience, unmatched by any other educational program. The program was intense, hands on and valuable. Each student left on Sunday afternoon having completed the course work and earning the coveted FDCC certification of Technology Master Advocate. We are certain that this program will grow into another “can’t miss” FDCC event.



Many of the most seasoned trial lawyers handle professional liability cases, and many of those cases pose significant financial and professional exposure to the clients. These cases also attract the best-of-the-best Plaintiff’s lawyers. If you aren’t using technology to tell your client’s story, you’re not communicating with your jurors as effectively as you could be. Also, it’s not true that you can’t teach an old dog (or horse) new tricks, as many of the Tech-U students had more than 30 years of experience in practicing law.



Until the next Tech-U is announced, do yourself a favor and spend time on the FDCC’s Evolve



Primarily built by tech guru Bob Christie, the subjects presented for consideration on the Evolve website will give any lawyer a decided advantage over their opponent. Begin mastering the concepts there, and plan to attend the next FDCC Tech-U. You, and your clients, will be glad you did.



January 2018

Submitted by: Clark R. Hudson & Michael J. Denning



FDCC, Civility and Mentors


Lack of civility has been a popular topic at most legal conferences. It is debatable whether civility in the legal profession is improving, staying the same or getting worse. Lack of civility is certainly not an issue isolated to the legal profession. Poor behavior in our communities seems to headline nightly news. Indeed, over the recent holiday season, multiple news outlets were featuring a psychologist who had left a box of horse manure on the walkway to a public official’s home. While the box of manure was more about making a political statement, the act certainly lacks civility.


In the legal profession, a lack of civility is not isolated to any specific area of practice. It is not unique to men or women. The State of California included an affirmation of acting civil in the language for new admittees to be sworn into the California Bar. In May of 2014, following lobbying efforts from the American Board of Trial Advocates, the California Supreme Court adopted Rule 9.4 of the California Rules of Court to supplement the attorney oath. The oath to be taken by every person on admission to the California Bar is to conclude with the following: “As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.” And yet, civility continues to be an issue. (Don’t get me wrong it is a nice step – but we can do more).


If a child or adolescent is acting up in school, that poor behavior often is attributed (right or wrong) to “his parents not raising him/her right.” That sentiment is supported by a rather strong belief that our environment, and those that we associate with, impact how we turn out as individuals. It is not always the parents that provide a child the leadership and guidance. Brothers and sisters, relatives, neighbors, family friends, church groups, teachers and coaches also provide mentorship that mold young adults into who they will become, and how they will behave, as they mature.


So, what does any of this have to do with the FDCC? Borrowing a phrase from President Reagan, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” The members of the FDCC don’t have that problem either. Not only do our admission criteria weed out individuals with less than desirable behavior, those same admission criteria search for individuals that conduct themselves with dignity, courtesy, integrity and respect for the legal system. Great attorneys typically make for great mentors. Great mentors typically show a fair amount of respect for those they mentor, and receive a great deal of respect in return.


The FDCC prides itself on a membership of the preeminent defense lawyers throughout the United States, and internationally. What is the motivation for preeminent defense lawyers to associate? That is a question that has been asked time and time again by our leadership, membership committees and convention planning. Consistent responses in terms of why members seek to associate are due to the fellowship and camaraderie with other members.


After I became an FDCC member, I attended my first meeting with the excitement of associating with individuals who were the best of the best in the defense industry. I have continued to attend nearly every meeting since because of the opportunities to learn from other outstanding members in the defense industry. After the conferences, I have an obligation to take information from the conference back to the firm. Not only does it enrich me as an individual, but the law firm practice as a whole also improves. In a way, the FDCC is helping to mentor the entire practice.


When you think about it, mentorship occurs at all levels of an individual’s career. It does not end simply because an attorney has gained a certain number years of experience. In the legal profession, mentorship can be a two-way street – with seasoned attorneys learning from younger attorneys, and vice versa.


The FDCC stands at the forefront of the legal profession in providing mentorship opportunities. In addition to our annual meetings, Litigation Management Conference, Corporate Counsel Symposium and Insurance Industry Institute - we now are intimately involved in the Ladder Down Program, Professional Women’s Forum, Deposition Boot Camp’s and FDCC Evolve. There are a lot of moving parts in the FDCC organization, and our membership deserves every opportunity the organization provides.


I would hope many of us made a New Year’s resolution for 2018 to become better mentors. Not only mentors to our family, our law firm, but our communities in general. Think about this: If an attorney is acting badly during a deposition, does that mean the individual is a bad attorney? He/she may just need a better mentor. Better mentors will help improve the practice of law more efficiently than simply adding text to an attorney oath. 





December 2017

Submitted by: Neil H. Ekblom, Esquire





                  Our client businesses may call us any day now asking for an opinion on whether they are liable in an employee’s sexual harassment claim.  To answer this question, you need to know the two general fact patterns used to analyze harassment in the workplace, whether the employer’s sexual harassment program installed at the workplace provides an affirmative defense and whether any unique state laws are applicable. 


              Sexual harassment is recognized as actionable discrimination under Title VII. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sec. 701 et seq., 42 U.S.C.A. Sec. 2000e et seq. An employer is liable for a supervisor’s actions under two fact patterns.  In the first, called quid pro quo or economic harassment the victim is presented with an ultimatum of sexual favor by a supervisor in return for action affecting the victim's employment status, position or compensation.  An example would be an offer of promotion in return for sexual favor or sexual favor as a condition of a recommendation for advancement.  This type of harassment can be more secretive and therefore more difficult to prove for the victim, but once proven the employer is vicariously liable for the supervising employee's actions.


                  The second type of harassment has been referred to as hostile work environment sexual harassment, where there are multiple instances of bad behavior offensive to those of reasonable sensitivities.  Bad behavior here includes off-color sexual jokes, comments on dress, unwelcome touching and/or exposure to explicit or suggestive images.  The behavior is actionable if severe or pervasive, regardless of who is offended, man or woman.  The distinction as to the type of sexual harassment dictates whether a defense is available. In quid pro quo harassment the supervisor is an agent of the employer, which is vicariously liable for the employer’s actions regardless of harm, whereas hostile environment harassment can be defeated by showing that the employer’s actions were reasonable in response to a negligence-based claim.


                  Employers can avoid liability in state or federal court Title VII cases for hostile work environment-type harassment by installing a program for dealing with this type of activity and then utilizing that program.  In the summary judgment motion or proof at trial the employer must show (1) that no employment-related action was taken against the accuser as retaliation; (2) the employer acted with reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassing behavior; and (3) the plaintiff failed to utilize opportunities provided by the employer to correct or prevent the offensive behavior. Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 118 S.Ct 2257, 141 L.Ed.2d 633 (1998) See Also Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 118 S.Ct 2257, 141 L.Ed2d 662 (1998). In order to comply with the proof needed to avoid liability, employers would need to have a sex harassment program installed at the workplace before the claim arose and the allegations commenced.  An effective program includes notice in writing to all employees of what constitutes offensive behavior, written confirmation of receipt of that notice, periodical sexual harassment training, and a publicized grievance procedure that is beefed up with investigation and corrective action.


                  While employers are liable for sexual harassment by supervisors, courts are not strict on the definition of “supervisor”.  Essentially an employee who has the authority to influence employment-related decisions or is a senior employee who has authority to change employee assignments can be termed a supervisor.


                  Accusations of sexual misconduct most often in the press relate to hostile work environment.  This would include most of the current news fact patterns alleged against celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and more recently Garrison Keillor.  According to various press releases each of these individuals exhibited sexually harassing behavior on multiple occasions while in front of other employees.  In the case of Lauer, who works in New York, quid pro quo harassment may have also occurred. However, New York requires a plaintiff pursuing a discrimination claim under Title VII to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the date harassment occurred. We may see new case law and statutes to enhance sex harassment claims as a result of the current climate at the state and federal levels.


                  State case law must also be examined to determine if a Faragher and Ellerth defense is available in the workplace harassment context.  In New York State plaintiffs can sue under either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or under New York's own confusingly drafted New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).  This law imposes strict liability on an employer for discriminatory acts of supervisors regardless of the employer's knowledge and vicarious liability for non-supervisor co-workers if the employer knew or should have known of the coworker's actions.  According to state case law, reasonable actions in the form of abstaining from employment retaliation and a working compliance program do not provide a defense to the NYCHRL where supervisory harassment is found. Zakrzewska v. The New School, 14 N.Y.3d 469, 902 N.Y.S. 2d 838, 928 N.E.2d 1035 (2010).


                  Sexual harassment is only one type of actionable harassment against employees.  Other categories include race, religion, sexual orientation and disability.  Effective employer harassment programs deal with all forms of harassment and it is often up to attorneys, particularly those in-house, to keep their programs current and meaningful.




November 2017

Submitted by: Beth McMillan



Expanding Claims Against Insurance Brokers and Agents


As most people involved with the insurance industry have observed over the past five to ten years, claims against brokers and agents are on the rise and there is no indication these types of claims will decrease in the near future.  One of the primary defenses posited in many cases has been that the agent or broker does not have a duty, let alone a fiduciary duty, to advise a plaintiff about the specific types or limits of insurance coverage to obtain absent a showing of some special request or special trust placed by the plaintiff in the broker or agent.  This defense argument is being eroded by the continuing quest of brokers and agents to expand their market share and to advertise about their abilities to service their clients.    The more they advertise their unique abilities to place the right coverage, the more they open themselves up to claims that they are professionals or trusted advisories who owe their customers a heightened duty.


An even more alarming trend, however, is the growing number of claims against brokers or agents when the carrier does not pay the full limits of a policy after they have adjusted the claim.   These claims often appear when plaintiffs’ counsel are primarily targeting the carrier for breach of contract and bad faith claims, but also bring in the insurance agent or agency as a co-defendant to defeat diversity jurisdiction so that the case cannot be removed to Federal Court.  The negligence theory asserted against the agent is that he failed to advise the plaintiff that the carrier may not pay out the maximum amount of coverage or that he did not obtain a policy that would guarantee full payment of the policy limits.  Thus, when an adjuster evaluates a claim and fails to offer the maximum amount of coverage, plaintiffs’ counsel will assert claims against the agent for failing to obtain a guaranteed amount of policy limits.


Although these types of claims appear to be patently deficient and not likely to survive a motion to dismiss, there are some courts that are allowing these types of claims to gain traction.  Just recently, plaintiffs filed suit in South Carolina state court against a carrier for breach of contract and bad faith in failing to pay the total replacement cost of their home after it burned down in a fire.  Plaintiffs’ counsel also filed a claim against the agent for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duties, among other claims, for advising them that he had obtained full replacement coverage for their home.  Defendants removed the case to Federal Court arguing the plaintiff had brought in the agent as a sham defendant to defeat diversity jurisdiction.  On the plaintiffs’ motion to remand, the Federal judge rejected the agent’s arguments that the he did not owe any duty to guarantee the amount of coverage that would ultimately be paid on a claim. The court held that although there may not be a general duty on insurance agents to procure a policy that guarantees the insurer will pay to the insurance limit, there is, in some circumstances, a duty to procure a policy in which the insurer guarantees it will do so if the agent undertook to procure such a policy on behalf of the insured.


This decision is cause for concern about the ever evolving and expanding nature of what is accepted by the courts as the duties owed by a broker or agent to a customer.  Attorneys who represent brokers and agents need to be on the alert for these types of claims and be prepared to argue against the expansion of the duties owed by brokers and agents to their customers.  





 By: Lee Hall


I recently had the opportunity attend the Fall 2017 Keeneland meet with the CEO and General Counsel of a regional healthcare system and posed the same question to both:  What keeps you up at night?  They responded immediately, and in unison:  “Mass (fill in the blank).”   Fires, shootings, sexual misconduct, events that involve a large number of potential patients or victims pose a unique challenge, from a patient care, public relations, insurance coverage, and cost standpoint.   The following day, Steven Paddock killed 58 and injured 490 concertgoers in a mass shooting spree in Las Vegas.  Consistent with the concerns expressed by the CEO two days earlier, all of the businesses nearby face the same issues:  victims’ medical care, public relations, costs, and ongoing operations.  Most business are set up to deal with a single shooting, a single incident of disease, a single incident of sexual misconduct, but when a large number of people are affected, the impact on the organization can be crippling. 


The last five years have seen record high mass shootings.  2016 saw a record 366 shootings, surpassing the 333 mass shootings in 2015 and the 227 recorded shootings in 2014.  Most of the mass shootings have resulted in some form of civil litigation in an effort to recover compensation for the victims.  Because the perpetrator generally has few assets, counsel explore alternative targets.


 After the Columbine massacre, parents brought 17 lawsuits against the school district, law enforcement officials and parents of the shooters.  Similarly, after the shootings at Virginia Tech, families brought suit against the administration.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, though it was subsequently overturned on appeal. Similar suits have been filed against school districts in Marysville (18 million dollar recovery), Springfield, Bremerton (1.2 million), New Mexico (2 million) and numerous others.  A jury awarded $46 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Kraft Nabisco and its security firm after two women were shot in a plant in Philadelphia in 2002.  Similarly, counsel recently filed suit against UPS and Allied Universal, its security company, for the death of 28 employees in a San Francisco shooting in July. 


Attorneys have become more creative in determining who to sue.  Parents of children killed in Newtown, for example, brought suit against gun manufacturer Remington, challenging its claim of legislative immunity.  They also included firearm distributors and retailers as defendants.  Although the case was dismissed, it is currently on appeal before the Connecticut Supreme Court nearly 5 years after the shooting.   Plaintiffs in Aurora brought suit against Cinemark, the premises owner and theatre operator.  The claims against Cinemark were also dismissed at the trial court level based upon the lack of foreseeability. 


In response to the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, claimants did not sue the nightclub or its owners, but instead elected to sue the wife and the employer of the shooter for failing to disclose the shooter’s mental health issues.  Plaintiffs have recently amended their complaints to name Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as defendants on the theory that social media platforms offered terrorist organizations an opportunity to recruit and train new members, all with the social media hosts’ knowledge.  The first plaintiff has filed suit in the Las Vegas shooting on October 11, naming Paddock, MGM, the owner of Mandalay Bar, Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. and Slide Fire Solutions, LP, a company that manufactures bump stock devices to convert semi-automatic into fully automatic weapons.  Counsel have similarly filed suit against the building owners and managers of a Power Ultra Lounge nightclub in Little Rock, Arkansas, where 28 people were shot on July 1, 2017.    


Even where there is no recovery, the emotional and physical toll on the communities, organizations and families involved are impossibly challenging.  The Newtown school was demolished and rebuilt in a new area of the property four years after the shooting; the Cinemark theatre remained closed for nearly 6 months following the attack. 

The emerging theories and increasing number of claims raise almost immediate coverage issues.  Coverage issues range from the fairly straightforward issues, such as whether there is an occurrence, the applicability of the criminal actions exclusion, the assault and battery exclusions, the intentional injury exclusion, the terrorism exclusion to more unique issues such as the and issues regarding the number of occurrences to more challenging issues, such as the interpretation of “terrorist” as defined by a liability policy.  Terrorist, for example, can be groups or individuals with a demonstrated link to an extremist organization, but could also be the increasingly common solo actor who swears his allegiance to an organization in the moments before death, or more recently, a person who leaves no manifesto and has no known affiliation with any organization.    


In addition, liability policies do not address first party coverage issues and business interruption losses that follow the downtime after mass shootings.  In Aurora, for example, the theater was closed for nearly six months following the incident.  Most speculate that the Mandalay Bay suite where Paddock staged his attack will never be used again.  Moreover, many business interruption policies do not respond unless the event results in damage to a building or the contents.  While there may be superficial damage to some of the buildings, the damage could be easily repaired long before the building is in a position to reopen from an emotional or public relations standpoint. 


Coverage issues associated with worker’s compensation issues are also thorny.   While most states provide that workers compensation is an exclusive means for recovery for workplace injuries, there are numerous exceptions for management misconduct, management knowledge of specific risks, claims of dual capacity, and intentional misconduct. 


The insurance market has responded by offering programs specifically targeted to active shooter or workplace violence risks.  While each program is unique, they have common features.  Most provide elements of both first and third party coverages.  The liability coverage acts as primary coverage for workplace violence/active shooter/deadly weapon events.  The first party coverage provides business interruption and extra expense coverage.  Some also provide remediation expenses and coverage for public relations consultants.     


Many programs feature coverage for expenses related to hiring additional staff, counseling, crisis management, burial and body returns, forensic analysis and extra security measures.  Many also provide benefits for employees and victims such as counseling, psychiatric care, rehabilitation expenses and emergency medical care.  Many of these programs also include broad definitions of weapons to include firearms and explosive devices, knives, medical instruments and corrosive substances.  While the programs overlap with some aspects of a CGL policy, they provide a comprehensive approach to managing the overall health of the insured in the days and weeks following an attack. 





By now, every experienced defense lawyer has been introduced to “The Reptile” strategy at trial. The authors of these tactics advertise that by appealing to the concept of safety and protection from danger, Plaintiff’s lawyers can convince a jury to award outstanding verdicts in their favor, because doing so keeps the jurors and the community safe from harm by eliminating dangerous or unsafe conduct or actors. These methods are being taught by plaintiffs’ lawyers and jury consultants to plaintiffs’ lawyers in trial advocacy courses around the country.  


The professional liability defense lawyer must be aware of these tactics so that defense witnesses are not tricked into agreeing with these safety/danger concepts that lack specificity and any real relation to the applicable standard of care. In fact, the failure to address this strategy both in witness preparation and in pretrial motion practice is the real danger.


Defense practitioners should be on the lookout for authority – any authority – holding that these tactics are inadmissible. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals recently provided the defense with another arrow in its quiver to use to attack Plaintiff’s deployment of these tactics at trial.


In Brown v. Berkeley Family Medicine, the court affirmed the trial court’s limitation on the use of certain terms used in common reptile strategies. Although court did not refer to the “reptile” at any point in the decision, it is clear that that is exactly what was at issue. Brown was a medical malpractice case involving alleged misdiagnosis leading to the patient’s death. The case was tried before a jury to a defense verdict.  The court in Brown affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant a motion in limine restricting the plaintiff from using common reptile strategies. Specifically, the defendant moved to prohibit the plaintiff “from arguing that jurors had the power to improve the personal and community safety of jury members by reaching a verdict that would reduce or eliminate allegedly dangerous or unsafe conduct.” The trial court actually denied the motion, but allowed the defense to raise the issue by way of objection at trial. 


During his opening, the plaintiff’s counsel compared the standard of care to a “rule.” Defense counsel objected and the court ruled that the standard of care must be described to the jury, by both parties, simply as the standard of care, not as “a rule.” Additionally, in response to another objection made by the defense, the plaintiff’s lawyer was cautioned by the court to refrain from using the term “danger” or “dangerous” to describe the decedent’s medical condition.


The Supreme Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by placing “limits on petitioner’s ability to present her case by arbitrarily selecting words and phrases petitioner’s counsel could not use, such as ‘rule,’ ‘danger,’ and ‘dangerous.’”  The court further held that “the circuit court did not err in prohibiting petitioner from using certain terms that were potentially confusing and misleading to jurors. Petitioner was not prejudiced and manifest injustice did not result from the circuit court’s ruling. Petitioner was afforded the opportunity to present her arguments and her case in a fair and impartial manner, free from arguably confusing or misleading inferences.” 


The case is Brown v. Berkeley Family Medicine Associates, No. 16-0572, 2017 W. Va. LEXIS 629 (Sep. 1, 2017)



JULY 2017


Service on a Non-Profit Board of Directors


"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."         -        Albert Schweitzer


Service on a non-profit board of directors can be a transformative professional experience.  Although we all have the benefit of a law degree and the educational and experiential benefits that come with practicing law, board service requires us to learn and develop new skills – governance, fundraising, performance measurement and strategic planning among others.   


Board service builds strong leaders.  I often say that I got my law degree from UNC Chapel Hill and my PHD in leadership from StepUp Ministry, a non-profit in Raleigh, North Carolina, that helps low income people find employment, where I served as board chair for two years.  That experience changed my life, and I constantly encourage others towards board leadership. 


But lawyers who are board leaders must be careful not to take on the role of “board lawyer.”  Naturally, other board members will look to the lawyer on the board for legal advice, just as you would look at the accountant for financial advice and the insurance professional for insurance advice.  The lawyer on the board, however, faces liability exposure if she gives legal advice that the board then relies upon to take board action.


What exposure does the lawyer board face?  First, if there is a claim that implicates a directors and officers liability policy, the D&O policy covers may exclude coverage for professional malpractice of the board lawyer.  The board lawyer’s professional liability policy may then be implicated, and, depending on the insurer, the professional malpractice policy may limit coverage for advice that the lawyer has provided to the non-profit board.  Although a lawyer on a non-profit board is rarely compensated for his service, thereby making it difficult to bring a negligence misrepresentation claim against him, a professional malpractice claim could easily lie where it is shown that the lawyer had a fiduciary duty to the organization, provided legal advice and was negligence in doing so.


To avoid these risks, a lawyer serving on a non-profit board should do the following:

  1. When recruited for board membership, make it clear that you are not agreeing to serve as the board’s legal counsel, but rather, you intend to serve in the same capacity as all other board members;
  2. If the board asks that you serve as legal counsel, share this information with your law partners and your insurer – ensure that you have sufficient professional liability coverage for the engagement;
  3. Determine what, if any, conflicts may arise with your firm’s current or future clients; run conflicts checks as appropriate; and
  4. Recuse yourself from all board action, and wall yourself off, for any matter that could pose a professional conflict for you and your firm.

Service on a non-profit board is deeply meaningful.  It undoubtedly makes us better people, better citizens and better leaders.  Just approach the role with the understanding that other board members and non-profit staff will instinctively look to you for legal advice, and prepare appropriately.



APRIL 2017

Don’t Underestimate The Jurors Personal Bias, Or Overestimate Your Ability To Persuade Change

By: Clark Hudson:


All of us during jury selection are typically looking for a jury that will hopefully be sympathetic to our client’s defense.  During the voir dire process, we attempt to develop a rapport with the jury, gain some level of credibility, and to some extent pre-condition the jury on issues surrounding the claims and defenses involved in the trial.  If during the voir dire process we identify a juror’s potential bias that may be against our client’s case, the normal response is to strike that juror by either developing a challenge for cause, or using a peremptory challenge.  However, should we ever consider keeping that prospective juror in our panel, and try to persuade them from a stated bias through the evidence presented during trial?  As described more thoroughly below, my answer is NO!


Several years ago, I was involved in a jury trial where the defendant was accused of causing an injury to a minor plaintiff as a result of prescribing a therapy device following surgery.  The device was offered to most patients following surgery, but it was by no means mandatory.  The device was rented to the patient for $5 to $10 per day, with the patient being told to use the device as long as they felt it was beneficial.  The physician acknowledged during his deposition that the price point for the rental was intended to cover his costs for the device, the cost for his staff keeping them on hand and maintaining the devices and a profit for his business.  While the profit was not very large, the doctor’s position was that it was a service he was providing to his patients, for a fee. 


The minor patient alleged that she was injured as a result of her use of the device.  There were certainly issues of whether the injury was caused by reasonable use of the device.  However, there was no denying the fact the patient’s injury was indeed related to the therapy device.  One of the plaintiff’s counsel’s themes, therefore, was the doctor was placing profit over this patient’s welfare in prescribing the device.


The defense position was essentially that nothing in medicine is done for free.  When a doctor is providing services, those services (whether in consultation, in surgery or post-operatively) are performed so the doctor and his staff can make a living.  Similarly, if the doctor is renting equipment to his patients, the money paid for rental is likewise being used to cover the costs of the medical practice, and if there is any excess, it is profit for the medical practice.


During voir dire, the jury panel was questioned about whether any of them would have an issue with a doctor renting therapy equipment to his patients, and receiving a profit for that service.  Most of the prospective jurors appeared to have no issue with the circumstances; several indicated they would simply need to have more information. However, one particular juror who was an extremely well-educated and successful business man, stated that he may have an issue with the doctor making a profit when providing a service that was not fully explained to the patient, or to the patient’s parents.


The prospective juror’s background in business, and education level, made him extremely attractive for the defense.  In all other respects, he appeared as though he would have a conservative attitude in evaluating the plaintiff’s claims.  The only mark against the prospective juror was the fact the juror acknowledged he may have a problem with the undisclosed profit from the therapy equipment.


The decision was made to keep the juror on the panel for trial.  The belief was that the juror would understand after listening to all the evidence that all of the physician services that were billed, including the rental, were done so the physician and his staff can earn a living.  Further, while the rental equipment was a service to the physician’s patients, it was not a huge money maker.  Rather, the amount of the rental was done at a price point which would ensure the doctor was not losing money in providing the service.  In other words, we believed in the course of the trial that we could sway the juror’s mind on whether it was appropriate for the doctor to rent equipment to a patient while not disclosing that he may be making a profit from the rental. 


Needless to say, after weeks of trial, the juror’s perspective did not change.  In retrospect, we should never have expected that we could change the juror’s perspective while listening to a contested case in the courtroom.  Assuming the defense witnesses and defense arguments could change a juror’s perspective that had developed over a period of years was simply not a reasonable belief.


While the juror appeared to be ideal in every other circumstance, in retrospect, he had an innate bias on a key issue that we had identified in advance.  Rather than presuming your abilities of persuasion will be able to convince jurors that acknowledge a bias, the more prudent course is to challenge the prospective juror in hopes that you will end up with a replacement that does not have a pre-conceived bias on the issues involved in the litigation.




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Charles MeyerO'Hagan Meyer, PLLC, Richmond, VA

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