Tag: alternative dispute resolution

Compelling Arbitration of Commercial Property Insurance Claims under the New York Convention

In the wake of recent hurricanes, Louisiana courts were flooded with cases property owners filed against their insurers alleging improper denial or underpayment of hurricane claims. Many of those cases were stayed and the parties were compelled to arbitration, despite Louisiana law prohibiting arbitration provisions in insurance contracts, La. R.S. 22:868(A)(2).

In a typical case involving commercial property, a property owner filed suit against its insurers, often including both domestic and foreign companies. One or more insurance policies contained an arbitration agreement requiring all disputes to be resolved by arbitration in a specified U.S. city. Undeterred, the insured filed suit in Louisiana state court. The insurers removed the case to federal court and filed a motion to compel arbitration.

The foreign insurers sought to enforce the arbitration agreement under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (aka the New York Convention). The New York Convention is an international treaty that requires signatory countries to enforce an arbitration agreement where four requirements are met: (1) a written arbitration agreement exists, (2) that provides for arbitration in a signatory country, (3) which arises from a commercial legal relationship, and (4) at least one party is not a U.S. citizen. These conditions are met where a foreign insurer issues a commercial policy that contains an arbitration provision to a U.S. property owner. Under such circumstances, the courts were bound to compel the parties to arbitration.

The cases presented some interesting questions. For example, could domestic insurers also compel arbitration? Yes. Under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, where the claims against the insurers are interdependent, the domestic insurers, even if they were not signatories to the arbitration agreement, could compel arbitration.

Does the McCarran-Ferguson Act, a federal law that maintains the states’ power to regulate the insurance industry, cause Louisiana’s law prohibiting arbitration in insurance contracts to reverse-preempt the Convention? No, the Act does not apply to treaties.

What about the arguments that the contract was not freely negotiated, or that under conflict of laws principles Louisiana law should apply, or that the federal courts should abstain because the state has a vital interest in regulating insurance? The courts rejected these arguments as well.^

Recently, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Bufkin Enterprises, LLC v. Indian Harbor Ins. Co., affirmed that equitable estoppel applied to allow domestic insurers to compel arbitration under the New York Convention even where the insured dismissed the foreign insurers with prejudice.* However, the U.S. Second Circuit has held the opposite in two recent cases involving insurance contracts between foreign insurers and Louisiana property owners – that Louisiana law applied to prohibit the enforcement of the arbitration provision in the insurance policy.^^

With the exception of the Second Circuit split, the numerous cases arising from recent hurricanes confirm a strong policy favoring arbitration under the New York Convention, which overrides potential state law obstacles to enforcing arbitration provisions in insurance policies.

Mary Anne Wolf is an arbitrator on the commercial, construction and large, complex cases panels of the American Arbitration Association and is a neutral at Perry Dampf Dispute Solutions.


^ See for example, General Mill Supplies, Inc. v. Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, et al, 23-6464, 2024 WL 216924 (E.D. La. 1/19/2024), – F.Supp.3d – (2024); Dryades YMCA v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London, et al, 23-3411, 2024 WL 398429 (E.D. La. Jan. 31, 2024); Parish of Lafourche v. Indian Harbor Ins. Co., et al, 23-3472, 2024 WL 397785 (E.D. La. Feb. 2, 2024).

* Bufkin Enterprises, LLC v. Indian Harbor Ins. Co., et al, 96 F.4th 726 (5th Cir. Mar. 26, 2024).

^^ See Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London v. 3131 Veterans Blvd. LLC, 22-9849, 2023 WL 5237514 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2023); and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. Mpire Properties, LLC, 22-9607, 2023 WL 6318034 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2023) (appeal filed).

Make Sure You Are Sure! – A Comment on the Finality of Settlement Agreements under Louisiana Law

Preparing for a trial is a tense and stressful process for attorneys and their clients.  Sometimes, during trial preparation, a crucial piece of evidence can come to light that may push a case from a path towards trial to a path towards a settlement agreement. A “settlement” or “compromise” under Louisiana law is just that – an agreement between the parties to settle the dispute raised in the lawsuit, usually with the exchange of a sum of money.  Often, settlements are reached in the weeks leading up to trial or even on the courthouse steps. 

This type of scenario occurred in Nola Title Company, LLC v. Archon Information Systems.  While in the thick of trial preparation, audio recordings from one of the parties were discovered. That party concluded this evidence would be prejudicial to its case at trial, which spurred settlement negotiations.  The parties eventually agreed to a compromise and notified the court of the settlement via an email to the judge’s law clerk.  The next day, the attorneys reported to court and verbally outlined the terms of the settlement agreement on the official court record. 

Two weeks later, the defendants hired new counsel.  Two months after that, counsel for the plaintiff forwarded the formal settlement documents to memorialize the agreement that was made between the parties and entered into the court’s record.  However, the defendants refused to sign the paperwork and did not timely make the payments that previously were agreed upon.  Therefore, the plaintiff filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement.

In opposition to the motion to enforce, the defendants argued: 1) that their prior counsel did not have authority to enter into the settlement agreement; and 2) that the agreement on the record of the court was invalid because it did not include a provision about the audio recording, which the defendant claimed was a key element of the agreement between the parties.  After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that the settlement that was stated on the record was an enforceable settlement agreement.

The Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the ruling of the trial court.  In its opinion, the appellate court includes a summary of the law governing settlements in Louisiana.  After a thorough review of the applicable law, the court came to the following conclusions:

  • The settlement agreement on the record of the court was a binding settlement agreement, even if the parties contemplated a future formal written agreement;
  • When a compromise is placed on the record, the recital must include full disclosure of the material terms;
  • Any “missing terms” from the recorded settlement agreement were not a material element of the settlement; and
  • The defendants’ prior counsel had authority to enter into the settlement as written.

Based upon the court’s ruling, if the parties have a meeting of the minds and settlement terms are entered on the trial court record, there are no “do-overs” or “take-backs.”  It is important to “make sure you are sure” when entering the crucial courthouse steps settlement agreement.


Nola Title Company, LLC v. Archon Information Systems, et. al., 2022-CA-0967 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/13/23), 360 So. 3d 166.

Making the Case for Arbitration of Commercial & Construction Disputes

Clients frequently ask their attorneys whether they should arbitrate their commercial and construction disputes instead of litigating in the court system. This question arises either when drafting the contract or, if the contract contains an arbitration clause, once a claim occurs. Claims that require analysis of complex contracts, government regulations, and technical issues, such as those that arise in the construction, environmental, and energy industries, are well-suited to arbitration.

Parties typically want the quickest and least expensive means to a fair result. This is true even for highly sophisticated businesses where the amount in dispute is high. Arbitration gives parties a high level of control in the dispute resolution process. It is specifically designed to provide an alternative to the onerous and expensive discovery and trial procedures required in litigation. Parties can tailor the discovery and schedule to the needs of the case, which drastically reduces the overall time and cost of reaching resolution.

Arbitration also allows parties to select an arbitrator with specialized knowledge necessary to decide the case, which is especially beneficial in complex cases. Because parties agree to arbitration in their contract, they have control over the process in a way that is not available in litigation. For example, the parties may designate the administrative body and applicable rules, require a three-arbitrator panel for a complex case, name a particular arbitrator, require confidentiality, or dictate the timeframe for the hearing.

The following four factors are key considerations in assessing arbitration:

Expertise of decision-maker – One of the most important benefits of arbitration is the parties’ ability to select the arbitrator. This affords parties an opportunity to designate a decision-maker with specific qualifications and expertise needed to understand the contracts, legal issues, engineering and technical facts, and expert evidence to be presented. The parties can also select someone with strong management skills to handle complex matters or difficult decisions. The benefit is two-fold: Fewer resources are needed to educate the decision-maker in the critical industry background information, and the risk of an unreasonable ruling is reduced. 

Timeframe for resolution – The median time to resolution in commercial arbitrations is less than one year, whereas the time to trial in federal court is two to three years.* Because appeal rights in arbitration are limited, the award typically terminates the dispute and the expense. However, after a trial, the case could linger through the appeal process for several more years, thus increasing the expense. 

In addition to direct cost saving, decreasing the resolution time creates an indirect cost benefit to industry. Because “time is money,” shaving years off the process results in significant savings that likely can be better used advancing the business than litigating a case. Businesses lose billions of dollars every year because of the inherent delays in the litigation process.^ These losses stem from uncertainty in the outcome, capital set aside as reserves for potential losses, open claims reported to insurers, investors, potential clients and auditors, and loss of employee hours and administrative costs expended in litigation. Arbitration offers an alternative to mitigate and control these costs.

Expense – Arbitration typically costs more upfront than litigation. The parties must pay the administrative costs and arbitrator fees, which vary depending on the time and complexity involved, but generally range from $20,000 for a $100,000 claim to $60,000 for a $1 million claim. The costs are shared among the parties, which decreases the per-party cost in multiparty claims.

However, parties can control the cost of arbitration. Discovery, depositions, and document production in complex cases can come with staggering costs. In arbitration, the rules governing discovery and evidence are less formal. Additionally, discovery is more limited, which encourages a streamlined process and reduces costs and time significantly.

Risks – An often-cited risk of arbitration is the lack of appeal right. An arbitration award can only be vacated on limited grounds of fraud, corruption, misconduct, or where an arbitrator exceeds their power.~ However, if the initial decision-maker has expertise in the industry and law involved, the expectation is that the decision will be a well-reasoned one that the parties can accept.

In contrast, a major risk of litigating a complex commercial dispute is the fact-finder’s lack of understanding of the issues, the escalating potential for nuclear verdicts, and the appellate court’s limited power to correct factual findings.

In sum, arbitration is a good choice for dispute resolution where parties want to control the risk of an unreasonable outcome, reduce the time and expense of the process, and select a decision-maker with special expertise in their industry.

About the author: Mary Anne Wolf is an engineer and attorney. She is on the panel of commercial and construction arbitrators for the American Arbitration Association. Her goal as an arbitrator is to assist parties in managing their case for efficient resolution, give a high level of attention to each party’s position, and achieve a fair result.


* AAA, Measuring the Costs of Delays in Dispute Resolution [online]; Micronomics, (March 2017), Efficiency and Economic Benefits of Dispute Resolution through Arbitration Compared with U.S. District Court Proceedings.

^ Efficiency and Economic Benefits, pp. 4-5, 16-23.

~ La. R.S. 9:4210 (LA Binding Arbitration Act); 9 USCA §10 (FAA).