Triggering the Insurer's Duty to Defend: What Qualifies as a Suit Seeking Damages?

Advocating Coverage Positions From the Policyholder and Insurer Perspectives

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

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Conducted on Monday, November 24, 2014

Recorded event now available

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Course Materials

This CLE course will provide a comprehensive review of a fundamental requirement of the duty to defend under a general liability policy: What is a suit seeking damages. The panel will explain and discuss this requirement in the context of a wide variety of claims for which insureds seek coverage, from both the insurer and policyholder perspectives.


In recent decisions, courts have addressed whether insurers had a duty to defend a variety of claims tendered by their insureds. Expedia v. Steadfast Ins. Co. presented the Washington Supreme Court with an insured’s tender of defense of multiple lawsuits seeking to recover local taxes.

In Recall Total Information v. Federal Ins. Co. (Conn. App.), the insured contended that settlement negotiations constituted a suit. Other courts have had to rule on whether notices from governmental agencies (regarding environmental contamination, for example) were a suit. These cases demonstrate that defining “a suit seeking damages” that triggers the duty to defend is a hotly contested topic between insureds and insurers, with differing results in different states.

Insureds face a number of potential claims that may or may not be considered suits seeking damages, and courts struggle with this issue. Such claims include environmental recovery efforts, criminal investigations and indictments, claims for restitution, recovery of pension shortfalls, negotiated settlements, and even the cost of counterclaims filed by the insured.

Listen as our experienced panel of both insurer and policyholder counsel provide their expertise and analysis of this important topic.



  1. The duty to defend a suit seeking damages—the basic requirements
  2. Types of claims for which a defense is sought
    1. Civil claims
    2. Criminal claims
    3. Statutory claims
    4. Claims made by governmental agencies
    5. Insured seeking reimbursement for own acts


The panel will review these and other key issues:

  • How different courts have interpreted the requirement of the duty to defend a suit seeking damages
  • Determining what is a “suit seeking damages” to trigger the duty to defend
  • Exploring how various types of claims may or may not be considered a suit seeking damages—and the factors that the courts take into consideration


Richard A. Ifft
Richard A. Ifft

Wiley Rein

Mr. Ifft counsels and represents domestic and international insurers in a broad range of insurance coverage disputes...  |  Read More

Jeffrey L. Schulman
Jeffrey L. Schulman

Dickstein Shapiro

Mr. Schulman’s practice focuses on representing corporate and commercial policyholders in a variety of...  |  Read More

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