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NEW YORKThe World Trade Center property insurance coverage disputes may be over, but the industry can still glean valuable lessons from events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the litigation that followed.
After nearly six years in the courts, New York-based Silverstein Properties Inc. and its insurers finally agreed to the $2 billion settlement through a mediation process that took place over the past two months.
To some degree, the WTC dispute demonstrates that in cases of large and thorny insurance claims involving numerous parties, alternative dispute resolution methods may be more fruitful than a courtroom battle, some observers say.
"The bottom line here is that the court process can get you there, but it is certainly our experience in a case of this magnitude and this complexity, a court process is very drawn out and inefficient," said Marc Wolinsky, an attorney with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York who represents Silverstein Properties.
"I think that all parties are happy to have put this issue behind them. Obviously, the cost and uncertainty associated with litigation works to nobody's benefit," Robert P. Hartwig, president and chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, said in an e-mail.
Lawyers note, however, that the $2 billion settlement is unlikely to set a precedent for future lawsuits against insurers, or for awards granted to policyholders in disaster-related suits.
"It sets absolutely no precedent with regard to policyholder suits against insurance carriers," said Stephen Cozen, founder and chairman of Philadelphia-based Cozen O'Connor, which represented Federal Insurance Co., a unit of Warren, N.J.-based Chubb Corp. in the dispute.
"This particular disaster was so unique and individual and unprecedented itself that I don't think this sets the standard for anything. It will neither encourage nor discourage cases against carriers in the future," said Patrick A. Long, an insurance attorney and president of Chicago-based DRI, a national group representing defense trial lawyers and corporate counsel.
The Sept. 11 attacks resulted in an estimated total loss of about $37 billion, according to the III.
Still, insurers were forced to pay more careful attention to risk-taking and policy wording as a result of the terrorist attacks and the insurance disputes that ensued, observers say.
"9/11 definitely gave us an appreciation of a degree of risk that some policyholders and carriers didn't fathom up to that point. The way that people evaluate risk or are willing to underwrite it has changed," said Michael F. Aylward, an insurer attorney with Morrison Mahoney L.L.P., who was not directly involved in the case.
"Regarding changes in policies, much has changed since 9/11, with terrorism now generally excluded from most commercial policies," and insurers selling terrorism policies backed by the Terrorism Risk Insurance Extension Act of 2005, which is set to expire at the end of this year, Mr. Hartwig said.
Furthermore, the events have called attention to timeliness of policy issuance and accuracy of policy language, as final policies had yet to be issued for the WTC when the attacks occurred.
"Since 9/11, insurers and brokers have worked to trim the time it takes to finish all the paperwork involved in binding insurance contracts," said Mr. Hartwig. The aim is "to avoid ambiguities about which language was in force and when, hence reducing disputes that can lead to litigation."
"Certainly the market is being more careful about contract wordings, particularly the London market, with much more of an effort to pin down precise wordings of contracts," said Mr. Aylward.
"One would hope that when people write up their binders, they specify what policy form they want to apply until the final policy is issued," said Mr. Wolinsky.
"Underwriters have to make sure that they dot their I's and cross their T's and their agreements are well-documented and well-understood," said Mr. Cozen. At the same time, risk mangers have to carefully read their insurance policies, he noted.