In this post, Miller Friel attorney Brian Friel discusses media liability insurance claims and how insurance carriers improperly deny media liability insurance claims. In the example presented here, a prominent TV and radio host was sued for defamation. The media liability insurer denied the claim based on an improper reading of an exclusion. Turning this improper media liability insurance claim denial around involved comparing the facts of the company’s on-air statements across multiple media outlets, and the language of the policy, which indicated that the insurance company’s initial denial improper.
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Below is a transcript of today’s video:
Media Liability Insurance Claim Success Story
Another example of these denial letters which we consider very misleading and wrong, is for a client of ours right now with a claim. It’s a very, very well-known and well-recognized media company. One of the lead people at this media company who is very well known TV and radio host, was sued a couple years ago for defamation. And they had provided notice to their immediate liability insurer.
Fine. They did the right thing.
That media liability policy covers any claims that arise because of defamatory statements made by anybody at the media company including the main host, the main person. It looked great. However, there was an exclusion at the end of that coverage grant that said “However, we insurance company will not cover claim for defamation for statements or alleged statements that are made on that person, the insured host, any of his or her TV shows or radio shows.”
Based on that, the insurance company denied the claim because in the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that some of these statements were in fact made on the celebrity’s TV and radio shows. Well, we got involved and we looked at the policy. We looked back at the complaint very carefully. And the complaint wasn’t quite worded the way the insurance company thought it was worded.
The complaint, although had mentioned the celebrity’s radio and TV shows, never alleged in the complaint that these defamatory, alleged defamatory statements, were only made on his radio or TV shows. It didn’t say anything like that. It just said that some of these statements were made on his shows.
So, you could read that complaint as, there could have been statements made outside of his own radio or TV shows that could have given rise to this plaintiff’s defamation claim.
We went back to the client and we pointed that out. They did some investigation and what they found out is that this celebrity insured in fact made similar statements on a different show. Fox News, CNN, but not his show. And it came out in discovery. So, not that we needed that, but we actually showed that not all the alleged defamatory statements were made on that celebrity’s TV shows or radio shows.
We went back and we looked at the policy and it’s a duty to defend policy. And I’m not going to spend a lot of time on duty to defend except to say it’s a very broad obligation by insurance company. If there’s any possibility that there could be coverage, doesn’t even have to be a reasonable possibility. Just has to be a possibility, an insurance company has a duty to defend. Well you know what? Just looking at the complaint, with its allegations, where it never confined the defamatory statements to the celebrity’s own TV shows only, that raises the issue.
There was a possibility that statements could have been made outside his shows. In fact, they were. We are now in discussions with the insurance company. The pay was ultimately going to be a multi-million dollar attorneys’ fees and possible settlement case, all because we took the time to look at the policy and look at the allegations of the complaint and compare them side by side in very, very detailed fashion. And we were able to establish that the insurance company’s initial denial was incorrect.