In a world of uncertainty, few things in life are more guaranteed than liability insurers reflexively rejecting claims for pre-notice defense costs, even where there is no legitimate or principled basis to do so. In a perfect world, insureds would immediately notify their insurers as soon as a claim or suit arises to avoid insurers refusing to pay or credit pre-notice defense costs. But companies operating in the real world for various reasons sometimes investigate and defend claims or suits before formally notifying their insurers. In that circumstance, insurers should not be permitted to avoid their coverage obligations for so-called “pre-tender” defense costs for each of the following reasons.
Many courts only require notice to the insurer – not “magic words” or a formal “tender” – to trigger an insurer’s defense obligations
Insurers often argue their defense obligations only arise after the insured formally “tenders” or specifically requests a defense of a claim or suit, even though many courts have flatly rejected this premise. E.g., White Mountain Cable Constr. Corp. v. Transamerica Ins. Co., 631 A.2d 907, 910 (N.H. 1993) (“in order for an insured to tender the defense to the insurer, it need only put the insurer on notice of the claim”). Indeed, many courts correctly have held that the insurer’s defense obligations are triggered upon receipt of “actual notice” from any source – even if not directly from the insured seeking coverage. E.g., Cincinnati Cos. v. West Am. Ins. Co., 701 N.E.2d 499, 505 (Ill. 1998) (“the insurer’s duty to defend is triggered by actual notice of the underlying suit”). Absent specific policy language or legal precedent to the contrary, insureds should not be required to formally “tender” or request a defense to obtain the benefit of its coverage once the insurer is on notice of the claim or suit – particularly where the insurance policy delegates the duty to defend to the policyholder rather than the insurer.Continue Reading Maximizing recovery of pre-notice defense costs: Considerations for policyholders