Lloyd's members have case to sue: Legal documents show ruined underwriters have basis to act against agency companies

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The Independent Online
FINANCIALLY ruined underwriting members of the Lloyd's of London insurance market have a medium-to-strong case to sue companies that looked after their affairs and gain up to pounds 2bn in compensation, according to internal legal documents circulating within the troubled insurance community.

Up to 17,000 members are mounting legal action against hundreds of companies that looked after their affairs within the market. Their action concerns pounds 5.5bn worth of losses that have hit them in the past three years.

The documents, seen by the Independent, reveal that lawyers for the companies have drawn up their own assessment of the strength of the members' legal case.

According to the documents, 19 disputes between the members and the companies are based on medium-to-strong cases, while a further 18 are considered 'weak'.

Even among the 'weak' cases, lawyers have said that members on eight affected insurance syndicates have a strong or medium case. Their case is weakened only by the amount of time that has passed since the members launched their action.

The legal documents have been circulated to insurers that have provided agency companies with financial protection against suits for damages brought by underwriting members over the conduct of their affairs.

According to legal assessments within Lloyd's, some of the most notorious cases will provide the underwriting members with the biggest chance of success. In the strongest category of cases, which favour the members, are insurance syndicates 540/2 and 847, once managed by the Feltrim underwriting agency. Members who formed part of these syndicates are seeking a total of pounds 431m.

The members of the Feltrim syndicates have alleged that professionals within the market failed to appreciate the implications of swapping risks within Lloyd's and failed to lay off enough of their liabilities with other insurers.

Similar allegations have been launched by members of syndicates once managed by the Gooda Walker agency. The legal assessment suggests that members on Gooda Walker syndicate 298, who are seeking pounds 232m, have a strong case. Meanwhile, those on syndicates 290 and 164, where the members are seeking pounds 268m, have a medium-to- strong chance of success.

On the chances of the members gaining a successful court solution on two insurance syndicates under the management of the former deputy chairman of Lloyd's, Stephen Merrett, the case is viewed as 'weak'.

Members are seeking pounds 480m in the courts from Mr Merrett's company for alleged negligence. Legal opinion admits that the intrinsic merits of the members' complaints are strong or medium and would be defeated only by a 'time bar' between the dates when the losses occurred and when the members took action.

The legal assessments have been made on the basis of categories set out by Sir Michael Kerr, who is chairing a legal advisory panel on behalf of Lloyd's that is evaluating claims made by members. Sir Michael and Lloyd's are trying to resolve all the disputes out of court.

Sir Michael is believed to have made recommendations to Lloyd's about the settlements that should be made. Any recommendation will not be binding on individuals participating in the Lloyd's initiative and full details are likely to be announced at the end of this month.

A financial panel chaired by Sir Jeremy Morse, the former chairman of Lloyds Bank, will decide on the level of any payment that should be made to the distressed underwriting members.

Professionals at Lloyd's do not expect offers to help the members to amount to much more than 30p in the pound, unless further money is raised from companies operating at Lloyd's or from new corporate investors that are to be admitted next year.

The US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Lloyd's American 'names', who had sought the right to sue the insurance market for fraud under US securities law.

The ruling ends efforts by the 100 or so Americans to use US law to escape their liability for Lloyd's huge losses during the 1980s. Earlier this year, a federal judge in New York dismissed the suit without ruling on its merits, saying the group had failed to demonstrate that English law was inadequate to deter alleged fraud on Lloyd's part.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Case assessments on Lloyd's losses ----------------------------------------------------------------- Syndicate number Assessment 540/2 Strong 847 Strong 299 Weak 290 Medium/strong 164 Medium 298 Strong 216 Medium/strong 833 Medium 1137 Medium 255 Strong 418 Weak 421 Weak 90 Weak 334 Weak 1084 Weak 404 Weak 105 Weak 108 Weak 134 Medium 184 Medium 80 Medium 843 Medium 406/448 Medium 604 Weak 745 Medium 602 Weak 527/379 Medium 475 Medium 384 Strong 367 Weak 1035 Weak 317/661 Weak 89 Weak 206, 210, 428, 122, 153 Weak 387 Strong 1031/1041/1145, 932/898, 936/279 Weak 803 Weak -----------------------------------------------------------------

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