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Harvard loses insurance lawsuit because it failed to file a claim on time

They could make this a class at Harvard Law: If you sue your insurer for not covering a claim, make sure you file that claim within the time set by your policy.

A federal judge in Boston today dismissed Harvard University's suit against an insurance company for refusing to cover certain costs related to its defense in the affirmative-action case heard by the US Supreme Court just this week.

Harvard had one insurance policy to cover its costs related to lawsuits up to $25 million and then another policy to cover any costs that went above that amount. Harvard says that's what happened with the affirmative-action case as it was wending its way over several years through federal courts in Boston before it finally went before the Supreme Court.

Last year, Harvard sued its "excess insurance" provider, Zurich American Insurance Co., when the company said it wouldn't reimburse Harvard for any costs above the $25 million limit for legal costs in 2014 and 2015.

In a ruling today that runs just four pages, US District Court Judge Alison Burroughs said the issue was fairly simple - Zurich's policy for Harvard states that any claims had to be made no later than 90 days after the expiration of that policy, which in this case was Jan. 30, 2016. But, she writes:

Here, it is undisputed that Harvard first gave notice to Zurich of the relevant claim on May 23, 2017, well past the deadline.

Massachusetts law, which applies here given that Harvard is based in Massachusetts, says that "unambiguous terms" in a policy, such as a clear end date for a claim filing, can't simply be ignored.

So, Burroughs ruled, Harvard's time in court is up and the case is dismissed.

PDF icon Complete ruling99.61 KB


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Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Voting closed 9

Dropping the ball, or doing someone at their insurer a favor to be returned later?

Voting closed 8

> Massachusetts law, which applies here given that Harvard is based in Massachusetts

It's a little surprising that Harvard isn't run out of a Cayman Islands shell corporation yet.

Voting closed 15


Is your penultimate sentence missing a clause? Or maybe it has an extra clause?

Massachusetts law, which applies here given that Harvard is based in Massachusetts, says that when it comes to "unambiguous terms" in an insurance policy, which means, basically, you snooze, you lose.

Specifically: "Massachusetts law.. says that when it comes to 'unambiguous terms'... " what? Is there something else that should come before "you snooze, you lose"? If not, maybe the "which means, basically," is extraneous?

Just wondering if I'm missing something.


Voting closed 9

No, you didn't miss anything; I just wrote poorly. Basically, the judge said Massachusetts law declares that "unambiguous terms," such as deadlines for filing claims, are, well, unambiguous and so Harvard had no excuse for missing a clearly defined time limit.

Voting closed 14

Hand it in on time, kids.

Voting closed 21

who know they'll graduate with honors anyway.

Voting closed 5

But the Biz Dev/Sales person counting on a renewal commission has surely lost the war.

Voting closed 9

The number of insurers who will write policies like this isn't exactly large.

Voting closed 11