Jay Lavroff, chairman of the litigation practice at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, enjoys the intellectual challenge of parsing the language of insurance policies.
Lavroff is an authority on insurance coverage and represents personal and commercial insurers with respect to property and liability coverages at the primary and excess levels. He handles claims for asbestos and for soil, air and water contamination and also interprets the provisions of automobile insurance policies.
Recently, Lavroff has seen a proliferation of claims stemming from the use of social media, and as a result, there have been more claims to determine whether “personal and public injury” coverage on liability insurance policies covers breaches of privacy, posting embarrassing messages. or offensive material and defamatory statements via social media.
Lavroff recently discussed his practice in an interview. Replies have been edited for news length and style.
What type of cases do you handle in your practice?
Generally, I deal with matters related to insurance. I handle insurance coverage (analyzing whether an underlying claim is covered by an insurance policy and representing insurance companies in lawsuits to obtain insurance coverage), defending a insured under an insurance policy when the insured is sued by a third party.
What is the biggest litigation trend you are seeing right now?
Although civil litigation has slowed to a trickle due to COVID, lawsuits continue to be filed and discovery, motion practice and other aspects of litigation continue. For the most part, this happens virtually. No one knows when there will be a full return to the courthouse. The use of virtual court appearances, depositions and ADR is a trend that has permeated all areas and specialties of litigation. This prevalence will continue, and in many ways it is here to stay. This has inexorably changed the practice of law, and lawyers need to become more comfortable and thoroughly familiar with the virtual aspects of litigation.
What is the biggest lesson you learned as a litigant in 2020 and 2021?
That the practice of law and lawyers themselves can and should be flexible in ways that many of us never thought possible. Moreover, the importance of civility in practice and respect for legal institutions during times that drain our nerves and stretch our patience to the limit cannot be overemphasized. We are more effective as litigators and simply better when we treat each other with respect and dignity.
What opportunities do you see for your practice in 2022?
Unfortunately, every day we have new challenges of all types. Often the answer to these challenges is to seek insurance coverage. COVID-related business interruption claims, Hurricane Ida property claims, data breach and cybersecurity claims, and claims arising from the use of social media are among the types of disputes that proliferate. These and others will require that insurance policies be viewed through a lens that has not been used before, and the courts will be called upon to determine whether coverage is available for such claims.
Give us some insight into how attorneys determine if insurance coverage is available in social media disputes.
With billions of registered users, social media is the most popular digital platform in the world. It radically changed the way we communicate. Companies used to deliver one-way messages to consumers through print or broadcast. With social media, businesses and consumers interact. More interactions and the ability to get messages out quickly through content sharing have created new opportunities for potential accountability.
For example, posts that contain errors, defamatory statements, invade privacy, include embarrassing or offensive material, misappropriate names, images or publicity rights, or infringe intellectual property may result in increased responsibility. Parties facing such liability claims will look to their liability insurance, including “personal and public injury” coverage. One consequence will be litigation over whether such coverage applies to social media exposures.
Is there an aspect of your work that particularly satisfies you?
I find the intellectual challenge of policy interpretation very satisfying. Insurance policies are contracts, and contracts are made of words. It is very interesting to argue the meaning of words in an insurance policy because the facts of each case create a unique context in which that meaning is determined.
Who has had the greatest influence in your career?
My parents. My father was the hardest working, most impartial person I have ever known. My mother’s sense of justice and her ability to comb through very nuanced circumstances to see what is right gave me a compass that continues to guide everything I do. I can’t thank them enough for instilling in me the qualities that got me where I am.