Insurance Cover Y2K Remediation Efforts?
Would the Y2K bug torpedo your computer system?
by Peter Kelman, Esquire
article appeared in substantially the same form in Mass HighTech,
November 21, 1999.
Just when it seemed like we had done all there was to do for Y2K preparation,
just when it seemed like it was time to kick back, wait if the lights
go out and the lawsuits ensue, a new "hot topic" has emerged
in Y2K insurance coverage. Several companies are testing the limits
of insurance coverage by demanding that their insurers pay for their
Y2K remediation costs. Relying on an obscure provision, called the
"sue and labor clause," found in certain types of property
insurance, these companies make the case that their Y2K remediation
efforts will ultimately save insurers money and that they should be
reimbursed for their preventative measurers. As you might expect,
insurance companies do not agree with this theory, and the courts
may ultimately decide the outcome of these disputes. Right now the
leading case on which all eyes are focused is GTE Corp. v. Allendale
Mutual Insurance Co., filed in the Federal District Court of New Jersey.
Unisys and Xerox have filed similar suits against their insurance
The "sue and labor" is an optional provision usually found
in a property policy. It states, in essence, that the insurance company
will reimburse the policyholder for the cost of activities, which
prevent covered property from suffering harm. It has its historical
roots in property coverage for maritime vessels where it was intended
to cover emergency situations in foreign ports. It encouraged the
insured to take corrective action to alleviate the peril, before full-blown
damage occurred. By doing so, the theory was that it saved the insurance
company money by averting or lessening the consequences of imminent
disaster. For example, if a vessel suffered hull damage as a result
of a storm, if that damage could be repaired and thereby prevent the
vessel from sinking, under a sue and labor clause, the insurance company
would reimburse the ship's owners for the cost of the repairs.
time, several precedents have developed which make sue and labor coverage
attractive to insureds. First, this coverage usually is not subject
to either deductibles or to limits of a policy. Second, the clause
has been construed to cover the cost of activities and repairs designed
to prevent likely harm. A policyholder does not have to wait for harm
to strike before taking corrective action. Thus if a ship's owner
spent $1,000 to caulk the hull on a boat damaged by a storm and which
was insured for only $500, under a sue and labor clause, the insurance
company would be liable for the full amount of $1,000. Present day
companies maintain that their fixes to keep their mainframes from
sinking in a sea of Y2K problems are the 20th century version of repairs
to a ship's hull.
As you might expect, insurance companies take a different view of
Y2K remediation costs. They cite the following reasons to support
their position that Y2K activities are not covered by sue and labor:
Y2K problems have been created by insureds themselves, they are not
the result of accidental occurrences;
· Y2K problems would not harm property covered by property
· The Y2K problem is not a sudden disaster; on the contrary
companies have had years of warnings.
attempt to prove to your insurer that Y2K remediation and failure
are the Scylla and Charibdis of computer systems, anticipate resistance.
In addition to the obstacles above, many commercial insurance policies
have been modified to exclude coverage for Y2K caused harm. In Massachusetts,
the Commissioner of Insurance has allowed such Y2K exclusions since
the fall of 1998. A Y2K exclusion may absolve an insurance company
of liability for Y2K-related harm, thereby rendering your remediation
inconsequential to your insurance policy. Further, if you try to collect
for past Y2K remediation activities expect your insurer to raise issues
of proper notice.
You Should Do
At this time nothing is settled in the controversy around applicability
of the sue and labor clause to Y2K remediation costs. The battle is
being fought in the courts among high-powered companies with hundreds
of millions of dollars at stake. For now a company's prudent course
of action appears to be:
Review your insurance policies to determine if your policy contains
either a sue and labor provision or a Y2K exclusion endorsement;
· Document the costs, both internal and external, of your Y2K
· Discuss your insurance coverage with your broker and/or your
· Discuss with your attorney whether your obligation to your
shareholders requires you to file a claim with your insurance company.
on the outcome of this analysis you may decide to put your insurance
company on notice of your intentions. If so, you would be well advised
to stay on top of this story in the hope that your insurer bails you
out and prevents yourY2K remediation costs from sinking your bottom
1999, Peter Kelman. All rights reserved.