Frank Cordell is one of the Northwest’s premier insurance recovery lawyers. He has a 27-year track record of successful engagements on behalf of policyholders engaged in coverage disputes with their insurers. Frank’s policyholder clients range from multi-national corporations to small businesses and individuals. His substantive insurance 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 and asbestos 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.
In recognition of his experience, in 2017 Frank was elected 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 27-year commitment to excellence in the field of insurance recovery. This includes vigorous and creative representation of 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 practical, step-by-step book 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.
After graduating from law school, 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 found GTTC in 1996, he was an associate with the nationally renowned insurance coverage practice of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. He became a name partner at GTTC in 2007.
Outside-the-playbook approach to major environmental coverage claim
Frank Cordell 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, currently is prosecuting litigation against the insurers in federal court in Seattle.
Coverage counsel to Weyerhaeuser Company
For nearly 30 years, GTTC’s lawyers have served as coverage counsel to iconic Northwest business Weyerhaeuser Company. Frank Cordell has been lead counsel to Weyerhaeuser in a wide variety of coverage matters, including long-tail claims. Along with Susannah Carr, he currently represents the company in litigation against the London Market, AIG and other insurers over coverage for liability arising out of the Kalamazoo River Superfund Site – one of the largest and most costly Superfund sites in history.
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.
Successful shareholder derivative case challenging board self-dealing
Michael Rosenberger and Frank Cordell successfully represented a local biotech company against its former insurer. When the company’s former CFO sued the client claiming he was wrongfully terminated, the insurer refused to make an offer that could have settled the case below policy limits. The client later had to settle for an amount substantially above policy limits, which settlement the insurer refused to pay.
The insurer brought suit seeking a declaration of no coverage, and our client counterclaimed for breach of contract, bad faith and violation of the Washington Insurance Fair Conduct Act. The case settled on confidential terms on the eve of 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.
Amicus counsel for the Association of General Contractors of Washington
GTTC lawyers Frank Cordell and Greg Pendleton prepared a successful amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Association of General Contractors in T-Mobile USA, Inc. v. Selective Insurance Company of America. The case asked whether “an insurer was bound by representations made by its authorized agent in a certificate of insurance with respect to a party’s status as an additional insured under a policy issued by the insurer, when the certificate includes language disclaiming its authority and ability to expand coverage.” The Washington Supreme Court answered in the affirmative. The issue was of considerable importance to Washington’s construction industry because certificates of insurance are routinely relied upon as evidence of compliance with contractual insurance requirements.
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, hiking with my family in the Cascades, planning trips and traveling with my history-teacher wife and history-geek 16-year-old daughter, and wine—not necessarily in that order.