Lathrop Gage Partners Bill Beck and Mike Abrams were recently profiled by Super Lawyers for their success in securing compensation for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted, individuals who have often spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. Lathrop Gage’s Civil Rights Insurance Recovery Practice group leads the nation in securing insurance proceeds for wrongfully convicted persons, recovering over $150 million for wrongfully convicted individuals and their families since 2004. Additionally, the firm has partnered with the Midwest Innocence Project to help exonerate individuals who are currently in prison for crimes they did not commit and helped to facilitate the recent release of Laquanda “Faye” Jacobs, who spent 26 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of capital murder at the age of 16.
The modern accessibility of DNA testing has led to an unprecedented rise in exonerations of the wrongfully imprisoned and a surge in civil rights lawsuits against public officials and municipalities for suppressing exculpatory evidence. These lawsuits present complex liability issues including qualified immunity, Monell liability, statute of limitations bars, etc.
One of the most complex ancillary issues is whether these public entities are protected for civil rights claims under their insurance programs. Particularly for financially distressed municipalities, the availability of insurance proceeds is often the most critical issue because of the potentially enormous liabilities these entities face resulting from law enforcement misconduct claims.
More often than not, the dispute over coverage hinges on the “trigger issue.” “Trigger” is a shorthand insurance concept used to describe what event must occur before a particular liability policy applies to a given loss. What events “trigger” coverage wholly depend upon the language of each particular insurance contract, just like any other private contract negotiated between two parties. If there is a governing rule in insurance jurisprudence (or Contracts 101), it’s that an insurance contract should be construed as written.