Tag: New York Convention

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).