When Less is More: Helping Clients Decide When, How, and Against Whom to Effectively Litigate

Client Alerts · November 15, 2017

What began as an extensive and expensive repair project on a naval ship became a potential disaster when thousands of gallons of fuel oil spilled into the repair facility’s dry dock, threatening contamination of Boston Harbor.  The repair facility responded quickly to the spill, avoiding environmental damage but still incurring millions in response costs and related damages.

When the repair facility came to us a year and a half after the spill, they were at an impasse with their insurer and uncertain as to how they could efficiently recover their losses.  When we discovered that the insurer had already commenced a subrogation lawsuit against the United States and the civilian contractor, we knew we needed to move fast to protect our client’s recovery rights.

We did so by filing a motion to intervene into the insurer’s federal court subrogation litigation, enabling us to litigate the insurance claim in what we perceived to be a favorable forum where the cause of the loss and the damages occurred.  The intervention motion was heard at the same time as the subrogation defendants’ motion to dismiss.  The trial court ultimately decided that the insurer’s claims against both defendants should be dismissed based on limitations in a federal statute applicable to oil pollution claims involving ships.  The dismissal of the insurer’s action, which ended the pending case, mooted our client’s intervention claim, and the insurer appealed the dismissal of its subrogation claim to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sixteen months later, the First Circuit reversed the earlier dismissal and remanded the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings.   In reaction to the First Circuit ruling, we examined potential recovery sources for the client’s uninsured losses. We even considered a potential intervention, this time with the insurer, against the United States in the remanded matter.  When the insurer advised that it was planning on attending a settlement meeting with the United States and others the following week, a meeting that could potentially stop the pending action (and our client’s recovery rights) in its tracks, we acted quickly, this time by drafting and filing a motion to intervene against the United States.  The filing of the motion gained us a seat at the settlement table, where we were able to obtain a substantial six-figure settlement for our client while at the same time minimizing additional cost(s).

While any law firm can initiate and ramp up full tilt litigation at the client’s expense, in this instance, our discretion, measured engagement, and focused strategy for our client was a clear example of how “less can be more,” and of why, when retaining litigation counsel, it makes sense to turn to Prince Lobel.

If you are interested in learning more about how Prince Lobel can help you navigate complicated litigation matters, including those involving insurance claims, please contact the authors of this alert Joseph Sano (jsano@princelobel.com or 617-456-8145) or Hugh Gorman (hgorman@princelobel.com or 617-456-8093).