Frank Cordell has earned his reputation as one of the Northwest’s premier insurance recovery lawyers. His clients range from multi-national corporations to small businesses and individuals. He represents only policyholders—and his reputation within the insurance industry has led to many successful engagements representing insurers in reinsurance and E&O coverage disputes. His substantive experience is equally broad, ranging from the newest and most complex commercial coverage lines to high-stakes coverage disputes and bad-faith claims arising under personal-lines policies.
Frank offers a special focus on complex “long tail” claims—securing coverage for environmental property damage, asbestos bodily injury, and sexual abuse liabilities resulting from business operations occurring decades ago. The work of Frank and his partners in the trial and appellate courts has played a major role in making Washington one of the most policyholder-friendly jurisdictions in the country.
Frank is a Fellow of the American College of Coverage Counsel, a nationwide, invitation-only organization of preeminent insurance coverage counsel that includes both policyholder and insurer lawyers. Frank’s fellowship reflects his three-decade commitment to excellence in the field of insurance recovery. This includes vigorously and creatively representing insureds, promoting civility within the insurance coverage bar, and regularly writing and speaking on insurance topics. Frank’s writing includes serving as General Editor and chapter co-author of the LexisNexis publication Practice Guide: Washington Insurance Litigation, a treatise addressing all phases of insurance litigation in Washington.
Frank also maintains an active non-insurance commercial litigation practice, including corporate governance and general contract disputes. He often serves as personal counsel to insureds being defended against lawsuits that pose risk of uninsured liability.
Frank served as law clerk to the Hon. H. Emory Widener, Jr., of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Before relocating to Seattle as a founder of GTTC in 1996, he was an associate with Covington & Burling’s nationally renowned insurance coverage practice.
- Jury Verdict and $19 million Judgment in Property Insurance Case. Frank led the trial team as co-counsel to a renewable energy company, Ingenco, in a dispute with ACE American Insurance Company. Ingenco owns and operates a plant that converts landfill gas into clean, saleable natural gas. The plant suffered a breakdown, leading to substantial repair costs and business-interruption losses. ACE denied Ingenco’s claim under its All-Risk and Boiler & Machinery insurance policy. After a three-week trial in federal court in Seattle, the jury found for Ingenco and awarded nearly $11 million in damages. The court later awarded Ingenco an additional $7.8 million in prejudgment interest and denied ACE’s post-trial motions.
- Notable Ruling on Emerging D&O Issues. Frank obtained a notable ruling on two important and emerging issues in D&O coverage disputes: the “Insured Capacity” and “Major Security Holder” exclusions. GTTC represented the former directors and officers of Altierre Corporation in coverage litigation against their D&O insurer, Allied World. Kline Hill, a private equity firm that had invested in Altierre, sued the insured directors and officers, alleging that they had breached their fiduciary duties to Altierre and to Kline Hill as a minority shareholder of Altierre. Kline Hill alleged that the insureds’ allegedly wrongful acts were motivated by a desire to benefit a third company, Stratim Capital, with which some of the insureds also held executive positions.
The directors and officers tendered the Kline Hill case to Allied World, but the insurer denied coverage. Allied World contended that the underlying allegations that the insureds had acted with an intent to benefit a non-insured entity, Stratim, meant that the insureds were not acting in an insured capacity when they committed the allegedly wrongful acts. Allied World also argued that Kline Hill’s acquisition of more than 10 percent of Altierre’s stock, which acquisition did not occur until well after the start of the underlying litigation, triggered the policy’s exclusion for claims brought by “Major Security Holders.”
On behalf of the insureds, GTTC filed suit against Allied World in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. On February 24, 2023, the court held that where, as here, the basis of the insureds’ alleged liability is breach of fiduciary duties owed to the insured entity, an alleged motive to benefit another entity does not place the claims into the Insured Capacity exclusion. The court further ruled that the relevant date for determining Kline Hill’s “Major Security Holder” status was the date the insured “Claim” was first asserted. The decision: Abrams v. Allied World Assurance Co. (U.S.) Inc., 2023 WL 2214175 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2023).
- Notable Ruling Under Claims-Made-And-Reported Policy. Frank led the GTTC team representing a major Northwest-based hospital system in coverage litigation against Underwriters at Lloyd’s. The case arose out of an $18 million arbitration award against the client, in favor of a surgeon who alleged wrongful termination of his employment. Underwriters had issued the client’s an employment-practices policy, written on a claims-made-and-reported basis. The policyholder inadvertently failed to notify Underwriters of the claim until after the arbitration award. The policyholder’s notice came during the same policy period in which the employment claim was asserted but after the 60-day deadline for notice established by a policy condition. Underwriters denied coverage, contending that Washington’s prejudice rule did not apply where notice is late under claims-made-and-reported policies. The policyholder sued. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington rejected Underwriters’ position, holding that because notice came during the policy period, the prejudice rule applied and Underwriters could avoid their coverage obligation only to the extent they could prove that they were prejudiced by the late notice. The parties later reached a confidential settlement.
- GTTC Obtains Coverage for Class Action Against Major e-Retailer. Frank Cordell, Susannah Carr, and Miles Bludorn represented a major publicly traded e-commerce company that was the defendant in a class action brought by certain hotels in California. The hotels alleged that our client engaged in a bait-and-switch marketing scheme that constituted an anti-competitive practice and disparaged the plaintiffs’ businesses. AIG, our client’s professional liability and media liability insurer, denied coverage on a variety of grounds. AIG sued our client, seeing a declaration of no coverage. In October 2020, the federal district court in Seattle ruled for our on the key issues of policy interpretation.
- Win Against Fireman’s Fund. Frank represented the owner of a waterfront restaurant in Tacoma, Washington, in a coverage dispute arising out of a property loss suffered when a large barge-mounted industrial crane broke loose from its mooring and crashed into the client’s property. The client’s insurer, Fireman’s Fund, denied coverage, relying on a policy exclusion. GTTC sued Fireman’s Fund and promptly prevailed on a motion for summary judgment, defeating all coverage defenses.
- Outside-the-playbook approach to major environmental coverage claim. Frank represented aerospace giant McDonnell Douglas Corporation in its first environmental coverage litigation in the mid-1990s. He resumed that engagement in 2009, when MDC was a subsidiary of The Boeing Company. MDC had incurred substantial liability for the cleanup of numerous manufacturing sites across North America. The company’s resulting coverage claim was one of the largest ever presented to MDC’s principal insurer, Lloyd’s and the London Market. Rather than following the typical “playbook,” in rote fashion, and embarking on a second round of costly coverage litigation, Boeing and Lloyd’s reached a standstill agreement and proceeded to negotiate in a structured, orderly fashion. After five years of hard-fought negotiations, the parties reached a confidential settlement. This is one of dozens of substantial long-tail coverage matters that Frank’s clients have settled on favorable terms without bearing the enormous costs and risks of coverage litigation.
- Coverage counsel to Snohomish County after Oso landslide tragedy. On March 22, 2014, a massive landslide killed 43 people in the Steelhead Haven neighborhood near the community of Oso in Snohomish County, Washington. In the aftermath, victims and their families filed dozens of wrongful death claims against three defendants, including Snohomish County. These claims were consolidated in King County into the State’s largest-ever wrongful death action. Frank Cordell was selected to represent the County as coverage counsel, and, along with Chelsey Mam and Greg Pendleton, prevailed on key coverage issues. Snohomish County v. Allied World Nat’l Assur. Co., 276 F. Supp.3d 1046 (W.D. Wash. 2017).
- Bad-faith litigation on behalf of a public biopharmaceutical company. In 2009, the CFO of a publicly traded, Seattle-based biopharmaceutical company filed suit, alleging that he had been wrongfully terminated. After the company’s liability insurer failed to provide sufficient authority to settle the CFO’s action, the company asserted claims for bad faith against the insurer. Represented by Frank Cordell and Michael Rosenberger, the company entered into a confidential settlement shortly before trial.
- Insurer must pay under D&O policy in bankruptcy court. DBSI is a former real estate investment company whose directors and officers were pursued on various securities and other claims throughout the country. Haley Krug and Frank Cordell successfully represented the company’s chief executive officer in insurance litigation taking place in Delaware Bankruptcy Court, obtaining coverage for the individual’s defense over the objection of the company’s insurers.
- Precedent-setting environmental insurance recovery case. Gull Industries, a longtime Seattle-based gasoline distributor, faced environmental clean-up obligations for 220 gas stations. When Gull sought to recover the cost of these clean-ups, which it undertook voluntarily, from various insurers under its CGL policies, the insurers denied the claims. Frank Cordell and Susannah Carr (along with co-counsel at Marten Law) engaged in a multi-phase case to recover the insurance proceeds. In 2014, in the first trial, a King County Superior Court jury returned a verdict in favor of Gull. Issues in this ongoing “master class” environmental case include the effect of non-cumulation clauses, reconstruction of lost policies from years ago based on fragmentary evidence, and prevailing against the insurers’ “expected or intended” policy language defense.
- Insurance policies help with costly environmental clean-up. Simpson Timber Co. is listed as one of the parties liable for cleanup of the 250-acre Pasco Sanitary Landfill—a large Superfund site. Simpson turned to GTTC for assistance. After a careful review of Simpson’s insurance policies, Frank Cordell and Michael Brown have recovered insurance proceeds covering the full amount of Simpson’s costs to date.
- City turns to insurer to help pay largest land use verdict in state history. In 2004, a developer proposed building a parking garage on land it owned. Over the ensuring years, the city in which the land is located was alleged to have frustrated the developer’s efforts. The city eventually took title to the land through a deed in lieu of foreclosure transaction. The developer later sued the city. In 2016, after more than three years of litigation, the King County Superior Court awarded $18.3 million to the developer—reportedly the largest land use judgment in the history of Washington State. The city appealed the verdict. Frank Cordell and Greg Pendleton successfully represented the city in a parallel insurance coverage case in federal court.
PROFESSIONAL & CIVIC INVOLVEMENT
- Volunteer, University District Food Bank, Seattle
- Fellow, American College of Coverage Counsel
- Volunteer Attorney, King County Bar Association Records Project
PUBLICATIONS & PRESENTATIONS
- “Eight Things Every U.S. Insurance Coverage Lawyer Should Know About Lloyd’s and the London Market,” in The Brief, Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2017
- Volume Editor and Author of Chapters 4 and 6 “Insured’s Duties,” Washington Insurance Litigation Practice Guide (Lexis-Nexis 2016-17 ed.)
- Chapter 20, “Conditions and Insured’s Duties,” in New Appleman on Insurance Law—Library Edition, 2013
- Chapter 9, “Determining the Duties of the Policyholder,” in Appleman Insurance Law and Practice Guide, 2007
- Co-Chair and Speaker, Annual Northwest Insurance Law Seminar, presented by the Seminar Group, November 2nd and 3rd, 2023
- Speaker, Insurance Recovery Options, Contaminated Properties in the Northwest, June 1, 2023, Seattle, Washington
- Speaker, Interplay of Indemnity, Insurance, and Limitations of Liability, RIMS Washington Education Forum, March 16, 2023, Seattle, Washington
- Speaker, U.S. Coverage Disputes—What the London Market Needs to Know, presented by the British Insurance Law Association, November 3, 2022, London, U.K.
- Speaker, The Primary Dilemma, Excess Insurer Rights and Risks, ABA Tort Trial Insurance Section, Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee Mid-Year Meeting, February 24, 2017, Phoenix, Arizona
- Chair and Speaker, The A to Z Guide to the London Market, ABA Tort Trial Insurance Section, Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee Mid-Year Meeting, February 20, 2016, Phoenix, Arizona
- Co-Chair, All Sums, Reallocation & Settlement Credits, October 21, 2009, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Co-Chair, Mealey’s Insurance: All Sums Versus Pro-Rata Allocation, Methods of Exhaustion, Reallocation and Settlement Credits, October 15, 2007, Washington, D.C.
- Co-Chair, Program Committee and Program Author, The Mock Trial as Settlement Device and Trial-Preparation Tool, ABA Section of Litigation Annual Meeting, April 1998, and ABA Section of Litigation, Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee Mid-Year Meeting, February 1998
- Approximately 35 additional speaking engagements in Seattle and around the county, on a wide range of insurance topics
In 1996 my partner Jeff Tilden showed me a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” This quote—and the fact that Jeff practiced what he preached every day—had a powerful effect on me. It helped me understand that no short-term, expedient benefit is worth the risk of long-term harm, either to my client or my own reputation. In the long run, your reputation is all you have.
In my spare time, I enjoy cycling, striving mightily to be mediocre at golf, planning trips and traveling with my history-teacher wife and daughter, World War II history, and wine—not necessarily in that order.