Why is Hahn Automotive v. American Zurich Ins. Co. Important?
Now that we’ve taken a closer look at Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Inc. v. American Zurich Ins. Co., 18 N.Y.3d 765 (2012), let’s step back a bit and consider what it means both in general and in the reinsurance-claim-statute-of-limitations scheme of things.
As will be explained in this Part VI.B, Part VI.C, and Part VI.D, Hahn:
- Creates a new general rule, which effectively extends to a larger universe of contracts a statute of limitations accrual principle that it had applied only to certain specific types of contracts, including contracts of indemnity;
- Demonstrates that, outside the limited context of express conditions, breach-of-contract statute-of-limitations accrual is not exclusively a matter of party intent;
- Suggests that the New York Court of Appeals, if faced with an accrual question where the obligee’s demand is an express condition to the obligor’s liability, would probably not permit accrual to be delayed for more than a relatively brief period measured from the date on which the obligee was legally entitled to demand payment;
- All but forecloses an argument that a court may justify a delay in the statute of limitations by deeming a demand requirement to be an implied condition;
- Creates an analytic framework for determining breach-of-contract statute-of-limitations accrual questions that is at least as well-suited to excess-of-loss reinsurance contracts as it is to retrospective premium contracts;
- Will likely be applied to reinsurance contract statute-of-limitations questions, that cedents or reinsurers may in the past have assumed would be governed by Continental Cas. Co. v. Stronghold Ins. Co., 77 F.3d 16 (2d Cir. 1996); and
- If so applied to a situation where, as in Stronghold: (a) the reinsurance contract does not unambiguously condition the reinsurers’ liability on claims presentation; and (b) the cedent settled the underlying insurance claims more than six-years before commencing their action, will, all else equal, likely require a finding that the cedent’s claims are time-barred.
Hahn therefore has some important claims management implications for both cedents and reinsurers, which we’ll discuss in Part IV.E.
But there is, as no doubt many readers have discerned, a proverbial “elephant in the room:” arbitration. Arbitration agreements are exceedingly common in reinsurance contracts, particularly in treaties. In Part V., we’ll discuss the profound effect that the choice between judicial and arbitral resolution of a controversy can have on statute of limitations questions, and how that choice bears on cedent and reinsurer time-bar strategy.
Finally, there is another very important—and all too frequently overlooked— consideration that we would arguably be remiss not to discuss: choice-of-law. Reinsurance disputes, like so many of their other commercial counterparts, frequently cross state and national borders, raising horizontal choice-of-law issues. But in many (indeed, probably most U.S.) jurisdictions, including New York, choice-of-law rules that determine what substantive rules of decision apply (i.e., what rules of decision apply to merits-related issues) do not determine what statute-of-limitations rules apply, and that may be true (as it ordinarily is in New York) even where parties agree that the law of State X governs their agreement.
In New York, that issue is ordinarily determined by New York’s borrowing statute, New York Civ. Prac. L. § 202, many other states have similar (although not necessarily identical) borrowing statutes and at least a few other states may either simply follow the traditional rule that forum law governs statute of limitations or apply substantive choice-of-law rules to determine the applicable statute of limitations. Part VI will thus address choice-of-law questions pertinent to the statute of limitations, focusing on New York’s borrowing statute, and discuss how choice-of-law issues affect time-bar strategy. Continue Reading »