FOUNDED by former African American slaves, the west African country of Liberia has produced an insurance case that has bounced between the courts of several countries for a quarter of a century, condemning the claimants and their opponent to a generation of legal bondage. At long last, the saga might just be drawing towards a conclusion. It may also leave a legacy: to shift the calculus when third-party litigation funders assess the risks they face.
In the early 1990s, Liberia’s biggest importer, Lebanese-owned AJA, sued Cigna, an American insurer, in the federal court in Philadelphia for refusing to pay out over property damage incurred during Liberia’s civil war. AJA won, but a district-court judge overturned the verdict with a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict”—a rare device that can be employed when a jury is deemed to have deviated far from the law (in this case by failing to acknowledge a war-risk exclusion). The judge’s move was upheld by a higher appeal court.
Livid, AJA applied to Liberian courts and in 1998 won a judgment for $66.5m (now worth double that with interest). Cigna counter-sued, and in 2001 won an…Continue reading