Dispute insurance – do you have enough cover?

7 Mar 2023

Whatever the type of insurance, if there is a loss, there are two questions to consider immediately. Firstly, do you have cover and, secondly, do you have enough cover? This is as true for dispute insurance as any other form of insurance but, unfortunately, many claimants have a flawed approach to arranging cover. In this article, Rocco Pirozzolo examines what a claimant should consider to ensure they have bought enough insurance

A claimant once approached us when they needed to provide security for costs to the defendant. Not unreasonably, the parties agreed the claimant would provide security for costs in tranches. The claimant arranged for the litigation funder to buy adverse costs cover and a deed of indemnity for the initial tranche of security for costs ordered by the court. The limit of indemnity for the adverse costs cover was then increased each time the court ordered a further tranche of security for costs to be provided. This ‘topping up’ of the cover and providing further security for costs continued until the action proceeded to trial. 

Despite the confidence in the case from the legal team, litigation funder and ourselves, the defendant successfully defended the action. In accordance with normal practice, the court ordered the claimant to make a payment on account of costs towards the defendant’s costs, with the remainder of the defendant’s costs to be assessed by the court if not agreed. 

The shortfall in the cover purchased was so significant that only approximately 63% of the payment on account of costs ordered to be paid to the defendant by the court was covered by the dispute insurance policy. The impact of this under insurance was immediate because the court order was for these costs to be paid to the defendant within 21 days. There was no cover for the balance of the defendant’s costs that would need to go to detailed assessment.  

Clearly, the litigation funder in this action saw the benefit of an adverse costs policy and an anti-avoidance endorsement/deed of indemnity to provide security for costs and avoid having to pay cash into court. This was their motivation for buying cover rather than protection if the claimant lost the action. Had they considered this possibility, they would have bought significantly more cover. 

Assume the worst-case scenario

A better approach towards obtaining dispute insurance cover is to assume the worst-case scenario, namely losing at trial, and make a realistic assessment of the exposure to pay the defendant’s costs. This is prudent given the inherent risk in litigation, particularly complex commercial disputes. A cautious assessment of the level of cover needed for the trial should be made. This should provide the insured claimant with sufficient cover should they lose at trial as well as protection for any litigation funder involved in investing in the case (given their exposure to a non-party cost order). 

Assessing the exposure to costs for a dispute insurance policy is not a precise science, particularly when assessing adverse costs. As a rule of thumb, using a budget of the claimant’s costs if the action proceeds to trial is a useful basis to work from to assess the exposure to adverse costs. However, this would only hold true if the defendant’s legal team (both solicitors and counsel) have similar hourly rates to the claimant’s. Equally, the claimant’s budget would need to be multiplied to reflect the number of legal teams representing the defendants (where there are multiple defendants). 

Furthermore, the limit purchased initially should be kept under regular review. This is particularly important as an action progresses to trial so that if the limit of indemnity needs to be increased, the insurer can be approached in good time.

If you would like to discuss dispute insurance cover, please contact Rocco Pirozzolo at rocco.pirozzolo@harbourunderwriting.com.

Disclaimer: The above is not a financial promotion but is merely general guidance and/or opinion and should not be relied on as formal advice or a recommendation. We suggest you take professional advice before taking any action in relation to the issues discussed above.

Harbour Underwriting Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

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