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D.C. Litigation Departments of the Year: Blank Rome

Blank Rome: Insurance Winner

Blank Rome Partner Jim Murray likes to compare the nature of coverage in the firm's highest-profile 2016 cases to Lloyd's of London insuring Betty Grable's legs for $1 million.

They all involved big money, attention-grabbing headlines and most notably, emerging lines of coverage.

"Insurer underwriters are constantly looking for new liabilities or risks to insure and collect premiums on," said Murray, chair of Blank Rome's policyholder-only insurance coverage practice group in the D.C. office.

While many of Blank Rome insurance cases still involve historical wars about asbestos and pollution liabilities, Murray says the firm has seen more disputes regarding specialized coverages.He said modern examples of new and emerging insurance products that insurers are quick to underwrite, akin to Lloyd's historical insuring of Grable's legs, would protect against sports injuries, cyber loss, and credit risk.

In 2016, the firm successfully represented professional football player Marqise Lee in a groundbreaking "loss of value" law suit that was the first of its kind. Lee, whom the NCAA designated as an exceptional student athlete at the University of Southern California, suffered an injury that negatively impacted his NFL draft position and cost him millions from his rookie contract.

Lee sought coverage under his "loss of value" policy, but the underwriter denied Lee's claim. After the Blank Rome team won a critical forum battle to transfer the case to California, it quickly settled for an undisclosed amount.

Blank Rome also claimed a huge victory last year when an arbitration panel awarded $25.5 million to its client EDF Trading, allowing it to recover full policy limits plus interest under a credit risk insurance policy.

"It was one of the very first awards of that size on a credit risk insurance policy," said Murray, who along with Dickstein Shapiro's coverage group combined with Blank Rome in February 2016.

In 2016, Blank Rome served as special insurance coverage counsel to the debtor KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc. to negotiate insurance settlements and assist bankruptcy counsel with the company's exit from Chapter 11.

Blank Rome also set precedent in areas such as environmental specialty policies (client NRG Energy); and complex D&O policy issues (client Lyondell Chemical Co., now called LyondellBasell). In the Lyondell litigation, Blank Rome assisted in recovering insurance settlements for 22 former directors and officers from D&O insurers.

Kerry Galvin, former senior vice president and general counsel for Lyondell and a defendant, said Blank Rome "did a brilliant job" communicating and coordinating with their clients. "They brought an extra level of commitment to this case," Galvin said.

Keys to Success

Cast aside legalese and scrap insurance-speak. Talk and write simply and clearly.

Think and act like a plaintiffs lawyer—get a trial date, guard it jealously, avoid needless discovery and good things will happen.

A one-word amendment to Paul Simon's advice—"Preserve your reputation; it's all that's left you." And it doesn't hurt to be civil and professional to opponents.

—Jim Murray

This article was published in D.C. Litigation Departments of the Year, a special report by The National Law Journal. To view the article online, please click here

Reprinted with permission from the June 2017 edition of The National Law Journal © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, or visit