On a week-to-week basis, I talk to a lot individuals and businesses that are unhappy about content or information that is posted on the Internet and want it removed. Many times during these conversations the topic about whether a lawsuit should be filed comes up.
Although there are many different factors that should be considered when deciding whether to file defamation lawsuits, one factor in particular that I find is often over-looked, is whether a potential defendant has insurance coverage for the claims that will be asserted against them. Needless to say, if a defendant is covered, this can be a GAMECHANGER in many respects for a potential lawsuit.
For plaintiffs, finding out a defendant has insurance coverage can be a mixed bag. On one hand, insurance coverage can be great for plaintiffs. It can make an otherwise un-collectable defendant collectable. On the other hand though, coverage also means that a defendant will have legal expenses associated with defending a lawsuit paid for, which they previously may not have had the resources to afford. This can mean that a lawsuit may take longer, be more expensive, and settle less quickly then if there was no coverage at all.
Homeowners and Renters Insurance Coverage for Defamation Lawsuits
One place that is frequently overlooked as a potential source of coverage is homeowners and renters insurance policies. Many homeowners and renters insurance policies cover damages and legal fees incurred for lawsuits against an insured individual for “bodily injury” and/or “personal injury.” Although we typically think of bodily injury as something arising out of an accident that causes physical harm/injury to a persons body, “bodily injury” is often defined or interpreted as including coverage for injury arising out of defamation or invasion of privacy.
An umbrella liability to a homeowners policy may also provide additional monetary coverage, however this obviously only applies if an insurance contract already specifies that coverage already exists for these types of claims.
Limitations and Exclusions to Insurance Coverage
Even if coverage does exist, there are several common exclusions and limitations to coverage. For example, most policies do not include coverage for copyright or intellectual property claims/lawsuits. Homeowners and renters policies also often contain exclusions that deny coverage for claims arising out of “business pursuits,” a definition that can vary widely from state to state (for example, blogs that earn even a nominal advertising income can qualify as a business pursuit). Claims may also be excluded if a statement is made intentionally with malice and knowledge by the speaker that it was false (vs. negligence).
Additionally, while homeowners and renters insurance policies will generally have Homeowners & Renters Insurance Coverage in Defamation Action the legal costs associated with defending a defamation lawsuit (i.e. expert and attorneys fees) and any awards of compensatory damages that a plaintiff obtains for their injury, punitive damages are typically not covered. However, in some states, verdicts that include awards for attorneys fees can be covered, which can be huge for a plaintiff.
Insurance Coverage Dispute Defamation Attorneys
Defamation insurance claims are complex. Whether a particular claim for defamation is covered by a homeowners or renters insurance policy requires close examination of the specific policy at issue including the policy definitions and endorsements. Additionally, the law of each state can significantly vary how a particular policy is interpreted.
If you are being sued for defamation or are considering filing defamation lawsuits, call the attorneys at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA to discuss your matter. We have decades of experience both prosecuting and defending claims for insurance coverage and handling insurance coverage disputes. Contact us at (216) 373-7706 or Aminc@meyersroman.com today to speak with an experienced attorney. To schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation call (216) 373-7706 or schedule a meeting online.