Keith Bethlehem and Amanda Ryding

AIDA Conference
18 September 2013
A Bridge Too Far – the validity of
charges over Insurance Moneys
Keith Bethlehem, Partner
Amanda Ryding, Partner
The "Bridgecorp" issue decided
under Australian Law
What was "Bridgecorp" and why was it described by commentators as "one of the most
important decisions affecting the D&O industry in recent years" (Allens Arthur Robinson:
Annual Review of Insurance and Reinsurance Law 2011)?
Why was it in fact applicable to any third party liability policy?
Steigrad v BFSL 2007 Ltd [2012] NZCA 604
Steigrad v BFSL 2007 Ltd [2011] NZHC 1037; (2011) 16 ANZ-Ins Cas 61-910
NZ legislation identical to section 6 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act
1946 (NSW) (and similar legislation in the ACT and Northern Territory)
Implications for directors
The first instance decision in Bridgecorp prevented directors from accessing insurance
money to pay defence costs The Court held:
section 9 of the NZ Law Reform Act operates to create a charge in certain circumstances over
any insurance money that is or may become payable in respect of an insured's liability to pay
damages or compensation
in handing down the Bridgecorp decision, the New Zealand High Court held that a charge created
by section 9(1) of the NZ Law Reform Act applied to the whole of the amount available under a
D&O liability insurance policy issued by QBE to Bridgecorp, such that the charge prevented the
directors of Bridgecorp from having access to the insurance money to meet their defence costs
the reasoning of the High Court of New Zealand was that, as the insurance money might become
payable to Bridgecorp as a result of the litigation, Bridgecorp had a charge over that entire sum,
and that the directors could not access that sum to pay their defence costs
Impact on the trial in the Victorian and WA Supreme Courts, arising from collapse of
Great Southern:
– claims exceeded available policy limits
– Defence Costs paid exceeded $17M
– assertion by plaintiffs that the $17M paid as a volunteer
– mediation could not proceed where competing charges asserted over limits
Insurers' response
– the risk that payments as volunteers
– the "insurance paralysis" – ie the inability to obtain secure releases
insurers launched Declaratory Proceedings
'Centro' Proceedings settled before determination of similar declaratory proceedings
Implications for other major class actions where claims exceed limits of cover
NZ Court of Appeal
In the meantime, the NZ Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on appeal from the
original Bridgecorp judgment as follows:
the object and purpose of section 9 of the NZ Law Reform Act is to provide a charge over money
payable by an insurer to indemnify an insured party against his liability on a claim by a third party
It does not provide a charge or security over insurance money that is not payable in settlement or
discharge of that liability [at 29]
the statutory provision is limited to granting a charge in favour of a third party over "all insurance
money" that an insurer is liable to pay in discharge of the insured’s liability to that third party Its
terms cannot operate to interfere with or suspend the performance of mutual contractual rights
and obligations relating to another liability [at 57], and
the purpose of section 9 of the NZ Law Reform Act is not to rewrite the bargain struck between
the parties It is largely procedural in nature, and is a mechanism whereby a third party claimant
can access directly funds which an insurer is liable to pay its insured to meet the insured’s liability
to that third party [at 38]
NZ Court of Appeal (cont)
However, until a superior Court determined the issues in Australia, there remained
uncertainty particularly when insurers were facing defences in the Declaratory
Proceeding that asserted payments were made as volunteers
NSW Court of Appeal
Decided on Territoriality: No charge can exist where underlying litigation in respect of the
claim is not in NSW
Notwithstanding the Court's finding that the Act had no application on these facts, the
Court went on to make the following essential observations:
section 6 is not limited in its application to occurrence based insurance policies, but also applies
to claims made and notified policies of insurance
section 6 does not apply where the alleged conduct of the insured giving rise to the claim for
damages or compensation by the third party claimant happened before the inception of the
relevant insurance policy
a charge under section 6 would not extend to insurance moneys payable in respect of defence
costs, legal representation expenses, or costs and expenses that are paid by the relevant insurer
in accordance with the policies The Court recognised that section 6 does not alter the contractual
relationships between insurers and insureds The insurer remains bound to fulfill its contractual
promise to pay defence costs irrespective of the existence of a charge
NSW Court of Appeal (cont)
any payment made by an insurer by way of indemnity for the liability of an insured to pay
damages or compensation would (if there was a charge under section 6) constitute a valid
discharge of the insurers' obligations under the policy if made before a judgment or settlement in
relation to the claims of other claimants competing for the same limits This gives insurers the
ability in such circumstances to settle claims on a rolling basis when faced with multiple claimants
without having to wait for all claims to be resolved before assessing which claims should be paid
Is it over?
Not yet:
– time for special leave application to High Court yet to run
– appeal pending to Supreme Court of NZ
– questions remain as what is meant by the expression “the event giving rise to the
claim for damages or compensation” – see paragraphs 136-141 of the Court of
Appeal judgment
– will the NSW Parliament heed the Court of Appeal's proposal at paragraph 55 of the
judgment: "section 6 should be repealed altogether or completely redrafted in an
intelligible form, so as to achieve the objects for which it was enacted"?
Directors unable to access D&O policy to pay defence costs, 17 November 2011
New Zealand Court of Appeal overturns Bridgecorp decision, 20 December 2012
Australia's Bridgecorp handed down, 12 July 2013