Do you need insurance on your officers?

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In my article, Insurance for Homeschol Groups , I discussed several types of insurance a homeschool organization might need. One type is called Director and Officers Insurance, or D&O insurance.

D&O insurance provides defense for leaders if they are sued for wrongful acts in their capacity as leaders. Typical lawsuits against a nonprofit organization include mismanagement of assets and improper employment practices such as discrimination, wrongful termination, and harassment. Many small homeschool organization find that D&O insurance can be very expensive and sometimes forgo purchasing a policy.

But could that be harmful to your organization or leaders?

Since writing that article, I have found an excellent explanation of D&O insurance for nonprofit organizations written by the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York. You may read the entire article here.

Here is a helpful excerpt:

Unlike general liability insurance — which any organization that has a physical plant would be foolish not to have — many nonprofits are uncertain whether they need D&O coverage. When a person becomes a board member of a nonprofit organization, she assumes a level of responsibility for the organization (“duty of care”), and exposes herself to claims for not running and managing it in a proper way. Whether or not your organization needs D&O insurance depends on what the likelihood is that one of your board members will be the target of such a claim.

Claims generally fall into two categories: bodily injury (physical harm) and non-bodily injury (non-physical harm, like discrimination or termination). The majority of claims are for bodily injury. Your general liability insurance covers board members, subject to policy terms and conditions, for claims arising out of bodily injury and property damage.

Directors & Officers liability insurance only covers non-bodily injury claims. Non-bodily claims include employment-related claims and mismanagement of funds.

Fear of non-bodily injury lawsuits would be one reason to have D&O insurance. Although there are very few reported cases, it doesn’t mean that claims have not been filed and then either settled out of court or dropped.

Generally, there are two types of lawsuits in which a claim might be brought against a board member: derivative lawsuits and direct or third-party lawsuits.

Derivative lawsuits are claims against a board member on behalf of the corporation. The typical claim here would be mismanagement of assets. But, under New York State law only a few people have “standing” or the right to bring such claims. They are: 1) board member(s) suing other board member(s) 2) members of an organization suing a board (if at least 5% of the total membership join the lawsuit), and 3) the state Attorney General.

Because of these restrictive standing rules, very few derivative claims are ever made. It should be noted that claims of these types are not made for awards to an individual, but rather to make the corporation “whole.”

Direct or third-party lawsuits are brought by an employee or by a person not connected with the corporation who asserts a claim against it or its board on account of some non-bodily injury.

Employment practices like termination and discrimination are the largest exposure in these types of claims. If you have a small, friendly staff, and feel unlikely to have employment claims resulting in a lawsuit, you might not think it necessary to carry D&O insurance. However, when employees feel they have been wronged and are angry, they may file a claim even if it is baseless. At that point, you will have to hire lawyers. Your D&O then becomes a legal defense policy.

Indeed, Swords’ view is that D&O insurance is essentially legal defense insurance, noting that “99.99% of the cases brought against a board are going to be thrown out, but you’re still going to have to pay the legal fees if a claim is filed.”

In this connection, the “deep pocket” theory is relevant. This theory holds that only people with money are likely to be sued. Lawyers may file a suit based on a bogus claim against “deep pocket” board members with the hope of securing a settlement for their client. Organizations that have a board made up of “ordinary” people who aren’t known to have vast amounts of money may then be comfortable without D&O insurance.

I think their explanation of D&O insurance being “legal defense insurance” is very understandable. They also point out that most of the lawsuits filed against nonprofits are related to employees.  If your homeschool organization does not hire employees (and most do not), your risk is low and D&O insurance may not be necessary.

Carol Topp, CPA

Comments

  1. Maureen Marcucci says:

    Hi Carol,

    Well, I understand what you are saying. Yes, employment related lawsuits are probably the most likely, but in the state of CT, people are lawsuit happy. Over the years, I have had disgruntled people ‘threaten’ to sue for the following reasons:

    1 – my public school student was not allowed to participate in your homeschool spelling bee.
    2 – your group charges an activity fee
    3 – your coop did not allow my daughter to join, even though I was late in filing my registration (this had some legs due to poor management)
    4 – your coop required me to work when I was not available
    5 – your coop was invitation only
    6 – you didn’t let my nine year old into your eleven and up baseball program

    They are crazy here on the East Coast (so speaks a former PA, OH resident). I have kept D & O insurance for the last 6 years on our homeschool group. Happily, no one has yet taken anything to court, although number three is still jawing about it to the general public.

    Maureen

  2. Carol Topp says:

    Maureen,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. We cannot stop people from complaining or the threats, can we?
    Most of the situations as you described them are quite frivolous, but you are wise for purchasing D & O insurance.

    Your group should also consider nonprofit incorporation if you don’t already have it. It provides limited liability protection for your leaders. It cannot prevent lawsuits, and it won’t replace D & O insurance, but at least the corporation deals with the lawsuit and not the individual leaders. (Assuming the leaders are not guilty of negligence of malfeasance).

    Carol Topp, CPA

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