UK Court: Directors Insured Under D&O Policies Cannot Avail Themselves of the Financial Ombudsman Service

By Luke Johnson and Tristan Hall, Sedgwick London

The question of whether directors insured under D&O policies are entitled to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (“FOS”) in respect of an insurer’s handling of a claim has been a frequent discussion point for those involved in D&O insurance.  R (on the application of Bluefin Insurance Services Ltd) v Financial Ombudsman Service Ltd [2014] EWHC 3413 (Admin) establishes that it is unlikely that the FOS will be able to entertain such complaints, and directors must rely on the dispute resolution provisions in their D&O policy.

This case concerned the handling of a complaint to the FOS by Mr Lochner (a former director of Betbroker Limited) against Bluefin Insurance Service Limited (“Bluefin”) in connection with the notification of a potential claim to Mr Lochner’s D&O insurer.  Some years after the notification, a claim was actually pursued against him that was not covered under his D&O insurance.

The FOS considered they had jurisdiction to hear the complaint on the basis that Mr Lochner was a consumer.  Bluefin brought judicial review proceedings of that decision.

The court rejected the FOS’s arguments that Mr Lochner was acting as a consumer and determined that the FOS had no basis on which to assert jurisdiction over Mr Lochner’s complaint.  In reaching this view, the Court considered that the claim against Mr Lochner arose out of acts which were undertaken by him as a director and in the course of his (former) business.  Therefore, “the subject matter of his complaint was wholly concerned with the potential loss arising from lack of insurance cover in respect of a liability which [Mr Lochner] has incurred in the course of his trade, business or profession”.

In light of this judgment it is unlikely that the FOS will be entitled to determine complaints made by directors in respect of the main potential liability D&O policies insure against: claims against them arising from actual or alleged wrongful acts committed in their capacity as directors or officers of a company.

However, this is not to say that all disputes in relation to D&O policies will fall outside the FOS’s jurisdiction.  For example, spouses of directors and officers are routinely covered under D&O policies (but only in respect of the directors/officers’ wrongful acts) and their potential liability does not necessarily arise in the course of any trade, business of profession.  Whilst such claims are rare, the court suggested in obiter that it may have reached a different conclusion if Mr Lochner’s spouse had sought to complain.

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