A group of Kentucky hospitals sought reimbursement for legal fees incurred in two lawsuits related to the insolvency of their insurer, Reciprocal of America (“ROA”). In the 1970s and 1980s, the hospitals created two trusts to provide the hospitals with workers’ compensation and employers’ liability coverage. In 1997, the trusts were merged into ROA, and ROA agreed to assume the trusts’ business liabilities and to indemnify the trusts and their member insureds, including the hospitals, “in defending [themselves] against any claim Damages arising from or connection with the Damages.”
In 2003, ROA was placed into receivership and was later found insolvent and ordered liquidated. This led to two judicial proceedings in which the hospitals were involved—one that they joined as claimants seeking to have ROA continue to pay worker’s compensation claims that ROA had assumed from the trusts, and one seeking a declaration that the Kentucky Insurance Guaranty Association (KIGA) was obligated to cover the hospitals’ claims that ROA had assumed but could not pay. After both matters were resolved, the hospitals filed claims with ROA’s Special Deputy Receiver for reimbursement of the legal fees and costs incurred in those matters under ROA’s indemnification obligations. The claim was denied, and the case ended up before the Virginia Supreme Court.
The court affirmed the denial of the hospitals’ claim. The court explained that the plain meaning of the phrase “defending against any claim” and the specific contractual definition of “Damages,” together support the characterization of the agreements as an assumption reinsurance transaction in which ROA stepped into the shoes of the trusts. ROA’s indemnity could rise no higher than the pre-merger obligations of the two trusts — for those were the only liabilities that ROA assumed, and thus the only “Damages” for which it was responsible to indemnify the trusts. This contractual definition of “Damages” necessarily excludes any obligation for ROA to indemnify the trusts and their member insureds for the legal fees and costs incurred in the underlying judicial proceedings. The court rejected the hospitals’ argument that ROA’s duty to pay for the expense of defending against claims covered the expense of asserting claims. While it may have been good legal strategy for the hospitals to proactively assert such claims, this did not turn the assertion of claims into the defense of claims covered by ROA’s indemnification agreement. , Case No. 161767 (Va. Nov. 22. 2017).