Director and Officer Liability without Culpability

 

There has always been risk of personal loss to directors, even in absence of intent to harm. Such loss is usually financial loss and not criminal incarceration. However, even though this financial loss may be limited to legal fees incurred to achieve dismissal  or settlement (at least in the situation of absence of intent), such fees can be staggering to individuals and their personal loss will also include physical and emotional stress, damage to reputation and lost opportunities.

Today, corporate directors and officers are subject to criminal prosecution (and potentially a criminal record) based on the “responsible corporate officer doctrine” and their responsibility for the corporation not for their own conduct.

In this blog I usually stick with Canadian experiences. But due to the level of US exposure for many Canadian companies (and their executives and directors), this blog posting, here, of Kevin LaCroix in his The D&O Diary blog is worth sharing.

The Canadian perspective on risk management of criminal or quasi-criminal proceedings is three fold. First, indemnification provisions under the Canadian Business Corporations Act, here, one of the provincial Acts, or an industry based Act, should be reviewed for its trigger of indemnification or denial of indemnification. Under many such provisions the term “may” indemnify,  or
“may” advance moneys, is used, but some contain the word “shall”. These provisions also require the subjective test of “honesty” and “good faith”, and in a criminal or administrative action an additional test of “reasonable grounds for believing the individual’s conduct was lawful”, must be met before indemnification is provided.

Second is the individual contractual indemnity. By-laws may be unique to individual corporations, and they may or may not improve on statute language. Comfort will depend on the wording, but blanket bylaw indemnification can be modified and
restricted with no notice to current and (more importantly) former directors and officers, as long as a proceeding has not started. Therefore, individual contractual indemnities should be considered. I will leave this language between you and your lawyer, but there are being used more often in Canada and should be considered by every director and officer.

Third, insurance, is referenced in some indemnification provisions. The wording of the provision could be “may purchase and maintain insurance for the benefit of an individual” but it is very important to remember that this is full extent of the Government’s involvement in your D&O insurance policy. There is no vetting of that policy, there is no standard or even common policy wording in the Canadian D&O marketplace, and there is no control over who (individual or corporate entity) has access to that policy. The coverage of the policy is the responsibility of each and every director and officer. And though many directors will look to the “due diligence defence” and “reliance on officers and other experts” for protection from liability, the failure of an officer to properly procure a D&O policy for the director will mean that the director will have to cover their defence costs in the underlying suit, while they take on the cost of bring a claim against the officer for negligence. When it comes to financial statement preparation, “reliance” might provide comfort, but not when it comes to the D&O insurance policy.

The due diligence on the D&O insurance policy purchase cannot be done in this short blog posting, but, when considering criminal and quasi-criminal actions, here are a few things to look for:

  1. Is coverage limited to “civil” action?
  2. Is the reference to “criminal”action or proceeding or “penal defence” only given under a “sublimit ofliability”?
  3. Do the intertwined definitionsof “Claim”, “Loss” and “Wrongful Act” explicitly cover, exclude, limit or remain silent on “criminal” action or proceeding?
  4. Is there any reference to “Bill C-45”?
  5. Is the “Bodily Injury / Property Damage” exclusion limited (“for” preamble) or broad (“based upon, arising from, ….” Preamble)?
  6. Does the “benefits” or “statutory” exclusion extend to a health or safety act?

This is not an exhaustive list of issues under the D&O policy, but, regarding criminal actions, it is a good start. It is important to know that no D&O policy will cover the actual fine or penalty related a criminal or quasi-criminal act.

If you would like help navigating the risk of being a director officer, or you would like more information on insurance and D&O claim examples, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.

Greg Shields is a D&O, Professional Liability, Employment Practices Liability, Fiduciary Liability and Crime insurance specialist and a Partner at the University and Dundas (Toronto) branch of Mitchell Sandham Insurance Services. He can be reached at
gshields@mitchellsandham.com,  416-862-5626, or Skype at risk.first. And more details of risk and loss control can be found on the Mitchell Sandham blog at https://mitchellsandham.wordpress.com/

CAUTION: This article does not constitute a legal opinion or insurance advice and must not be construed as such. It is important to always consult a registered and truly independent insurance broker and a lawyer who is a member of the Bar or Law Society of the relevant jurisdiction with regard to this material before making any insurance or legal decisions. All material is copyrighted by Mitchell Sandham Inc. and may not be reproduced in any form for commercial purposes without the express written consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. Anyone seeking to link this document from any external website must receive the consent of Mitchell Sandham Inc. by sending an e-mail to gshields@mitchellsandham.com.

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