Directors and Officers Liability Insurance (often called D&O) is liability insurance payable to the directors and officers of a company, or to the organization(s) itself, to cover damages or defense costs in the event they suffer such losses as a result of a lawsuit for alleged wrongful acts while acting in their capacity as directors and officers for the organization. Such coverage can extend to defense costs arising out of criminal and regulatory investigations/trials as well; in fact, often civil and criminal actions are brought against directors/officers simultaneously. It has become closely associated with broader management liability insurance, which covers liabilities of the corporation as well as the personal liabilities for the directors and officers of the corporation.
D&O insurance is usually purchased by the company itself, even when it is for the sole benefit of directors and officers. Reasons for doing so are many, but commonly would assist a company in attracting and retaining directors. Where a country’s legislation prevents the company from purchasing the insurance, a premium split between the directors and the company is often done, so as to demonstrate that the directors have paid a portion of the premium. Problems related to income tax liability may come into play when a corporation avoids country specific liability law in order to protect its individual directors and officers through insurance.
A common misperception of D&O insurance is that it makes directors or officers able to engage in acts they know to be wrong; this is not the case. Intentional illegal acts or any illegal gains/profits obtained by directors/officers are not covered under most D&O insurance policies; coverage would only extend to “wrongful acts” as defined under the policy, which may include certain acts, omissions, misstatements while acting as a director/officer of the organization. Exclusionary language, however, would not provide coverage for fraud, illegal profits/gains, or intentional/wanton illegal conduct by such director/officer (as examples).