Department of Financial Services Urges New York State Insurers to Act Quickly and in Good Faith
DFS Advises Insurers to Exercise Best Practices with Prior and Current Policyholders and Their Claimants, and Encourages Increased Records Retention and Access to Aid CVA-Related Claims
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is taking action to ensure victims of child sexual abuse receive justice by asking the Department of Financial Services to issue guidance urging New York State insurers with potential exposure to legal claims stemming from the Child Victims Act to act promptly and in good faith. The Governor signed the Child Victims Act, a key part of his 2019 Justice Agenda, into law earlier this year and the one-year look-back window began last month.
"We enacted the Child Victims Act so that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have a path to justice," Governor Cuomo said. "With this action we are helping ensure the claims process works efficiently and effectively by reminding insurers they have an obligation to move quickly so that these survivors finally get some measure of peace."
"At a time when more Americans are coming forward to tell their stories of survival, the Child Victims Act is providing justice for those who have suffered for far too long," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "We want to help ensure that legal claims under the law are handled swiftly for victims to finally receive the support and relief they need. The lookback window under the Child Victims Act is an important opportunity for survivors across the state to finally hold their abusers accountable."
Superintendent of Financial Services Linda A. Lacewell said, "We expect our regulated entities to exercise best practices with their prior and current policyholders, and their respective claimants, including properly performing any and all duties to defend CVA-related claims, so that survivors receive the long-overdue relief provided under the Child Victims Act."
In today's guidance, DFS also encourages all insurers and other regulated entities and persons with relevant records to act in utmost good faith to preserve and provide any relevant records to policyholders and other entitled persons, whether in connection with any lawful discovery process or otherwise. In cases of lost insurance policies, DFS requests that insurers consider other evidence that they, policyholders, or victims are able to produce to determine the relevant policy details.
Today's guidance comes as we begin to see the effects of the CVA, a priority of Governor Cuomo, realized. Part of the Governor's 2019 Justice Agenda, the CVA provides relief to those persons who were child victims of sexual abuse by creating exceptions to New York's statutes of limitations to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, regardless of when the crime occurred. The CVA expands the ability for New York State to prosecute those who have committed such crimes and extended the time for those who were victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits and opened a one-year window (beginning August 14, 2019) for previously time-barred legal claims.
Victims may sue or employ alternative dispute resolution methods to pursue legal claims against alleged perpetrators, organizations that employed the alleged perpetrators at the time of the abuse, and other persons or organizations that might be held responsible for the alleged abusive acts and the harm the acts caused.
Certain legal claims now arising are based on acts that occurred years or even decades - ago. Some of the defendants in such cases may have had insurance policies in force at the time of such occurrences that may provide coverage for part or all of the damages awarded to victims, and insurers may have a duty to defend under certain policies. If a policy relevant to a CVA-related claim cannot be located, other records may provide evidence of insurance coverage (such as letters or other correspondence, certificates of insurance, or any other documents describing the relevant coverage).
A full copy of the circular letter can be found on the DFS website.