The First Circuit on Professional Liability Insurance

What SCOTUSBLOG does for the Supreme Court - maintaining a steady and running review of goings on at the high court - Appellate Law and Practice does for the First Circuit, only with a little more humor and quirkiness than SCOTUSBLOG employs. A regular check of Appellate Law and Practice ensures that you don’t miss anything at all, yet alone anything of importance to your own practice areas, that takes place at the First Circuit.

I mention this today because Appellate Law and Practice has the story of a decision out of the First Circuit last week concluding that, as is in fact the rule, business decisions and activities that are not unique to the type of professional services conducted by an insured are not within the scope of that insured’s professional liability coverage. To quote Appellate Law and Practice,  

In short, under what the First thinks is Massachusetts law, professional “Errors and Omissions” insurance (in this case for an insurance broker) doesn’t cover business decisions, which, in this case was a breach of an exclusivity agreement that resulted in an arbitration award. Or, in the words of the First, “A promise by an agent to represent one insurer exclusively for certain lines of insurance is not itself a professional service, nor does a diversion of business in breach of such a contract comprise the performance of professional service. The closest cases interpreting Massachusetts insurance law hold that overcharging clients in fees, even though for work done in a professional capacity, is not itself a professional service covered by malpractice or E&O policies.”

The First Circuit is right about this issue, and between rulings out of that circuit and from the state courts, Massachusetts is becoming a jurisdiction in which this rule is clear and can be expected to be enforced. Not all jurisdictions are like that about this issue, and it can sometimes be hard to convince a court that this is the rule, because it is a limitation on coverage that is generally not expressly laid out in professional liability policies and is instead something that logically flows from the language and structure of the policy. This is not the case in the First Circuit or Massachusetts, however, where the courts clearly get this point.