Lawyers Weekly article on claims exposure for real estate lawyers due to coverage exceptions in certain title insurance policies
The December 26, 2014, issue of Lawyers Weekly has an article on a claims exposure that arises due to coverage exceptions in certain title insurance policies. Real estate lawyers need to be aware of this claims exposure and how to avoid it. LAWPRO has seen 7 claims with combined losses approaching $2 million, including one claims that hit the $1 million per claim policy limits. These claims have involved the policies from three different title insurers active in Ontario.
In October LAWPRO became aware of a new exception to coverage in certain title insurance policies which could expose real estate practitioners to claims from their private lender clients. The claims exposure arises in connection with private residential mortgage transactions, and in particular where the lender and borrower are separately represented, as required, because the loan is more than $50,000. This is the basic scenario: After the lender’s and borrower’s lawyers conduct their respective work and due diligence, the lender’s lawyer provides the mortgage advance to the borrower’s lawyer, in trust. The borrower’s lawyer accepts a direction from his/her client as to how the mortgage advance is to be paid out. The direction provides for funds to be paid to one or more third parties. Typically, the lender’s lawyer would not see this direction. The lender’s lawyer purchases a title insurance policy. It turns out that a fraud has been perpetrated (i.e., the borrower has been impersonated). The lender files a claim with its title insurer as a result of the fraud. The title insurer denies the claim as a result of an exception in the policy dealing with distribution of the mortgage proceeds.
The typical wording of this exception provides that, notwithstanding the coverage offered by the policy, the company may deny coverage and has no liability to the insured in the event the proceeds of the insured mortgage are paid to any person or entity other than the registered title holder, the holder of a prior registered encumbrance, execution creditor or other specified, limited types of payees. The Lawyer Weekly article mentioned an October post on this blog that contained the wording from the actual exception clauses.
If the lender’s lawyer is not aware of or does not alert a lender client to the existence of this exception, and highlight the potential for a denial of coverage if the mortgage proceeds are paid to parties other than those permitted in the exception, the lender’s only likely recourse will be a negligence claim against the lender’s lawyer in the event the lender’s title insurance claim is denied. We have recently seen several claims arising out of this exact scenario, including some involving substantial dollar amounts.
Note that in transactions where a lawyer is permitted to act for lender and borrower (e.g., under $50,000 or when non-arm’s length parties) and payments are made to third parties, the lawyer will be taken to know that the exception applies if a fraud is perpetrated. Why? Because the lawyer will have both undertaken the distribution of funds in contravention of the exception and negotiated or accepted the policy with the relevant exception.
From a claims prevention point of view, the above scenario highlights the lawyer’s duty to carefully review the terms of a title insurance policy and explain them to a client. As lenders will expect fraud coverage to be in place, LAWPRO encourages lawyers acting for lenders to be aware of these exceptions and where applicable based on the presence of the exception, to advise lender clients that there may not be coverage where there has been a fraud and mortgage funds are paid to one or more parties other than those permitted in the exception.
This exception is not being added to TitlePLUS polices as a matter of course, although TitlePLUS underwriting requires the subscribing lawyer to advise if funds are going to non-permitted payees. Failure of the lawyer ordering the policy to comply with the underwriting requirement does not affect the lender’s coverage under the policy, although it could result in review of a lawyer’s status under the TitlePLUS Subscription Agreement. If you have any questions concerning the TitlePLUS underwriting requirements, contact the TitlePLUS Customer Service Centre via email at [email protected] or call 1-800-410-1013.
If you have any questions about the exceptions discussed in this communication, please contact your title insurer. If you have acted for a lender in the scenario described above and there has been a fraud, there is the potential for a claim and the circumstances of your matter should be reported to LAWPRO – see the How to report a claim page on our website.