Reinsurer Found Prejudiced By Disadvantageous Commutations Resulting From Ceding Insurer’s Late Notice

Carlton Fields
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A legal dispute stemmed from Utica Mutual Insurance Company’s late notice of claim to Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, Utica’s reinsurer. Although the parties’ facultative reinsurance certificate required Utica to provide prompt notice “of any occurrence or accident which appears likely to involve reinsurance,” Utica did not provide notice of its claim until 2008 after it entered into a settlement agreement with its own insured surrounding litigation which commenced in 1997. Fireman’s Fund argued that it was prejudiced by Utica’s late notice of its $35 million claim because Fireman’s Fund did not take the claim into account when it negotiated thirteen commutation agreements with retrocessionaires. According to Fireman’s Fund, the retrocessionaires would have been responsible for almost $20 million of the $35 million claim had Fireman’s Fund known of the claim because those claims would have been part of their negotiations. Utica maintained that the commutations were collateral matters which did not constitute prejudice and sought partial summary judgment on the issue of late notice. The court concluded that a reinsurer may be prejudiced by its ceding insurer’s late notice which caused it to make disadvantageous commutations. However, the reinsurer must prove that it suffered tangible loss. If it can do so, then the reinsurer is entitled to complete relief from its duty to indemnify and not merely for those damages caused by the prejudice. The court also denied Utica’s motion for partial summary judgment on Fireman’s Funds bad faith defense. Genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Utica was grossly negligent or reckless in failing to provide prompt notice to Fireman’s Fund. Utica Mutual Insurance Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., No. 6:09-CV-853 (USDC N.D.N.Y. Feb. 9, 2015).

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