The Baltimore Sun

Edition: FINAL

Section: BUSINESS

Page: 1C

 

August 28, 1996

 

Lloyds can proceed with recovery plan

Appeals court halts injunction obtained by U.S. investors

Settlement deadline today

Huge losses from asbestos, pollution cases rocked insurer

 

Author: Jay Hancock; SUN STAFF

 

Article Text:

 

A federal appeals court in Baltimore reversed a ruling against Lloyds of London yesterday, clearing a last-minute obstruction to Lloyds recovery plan and disappointing hundreds of U.S.  investors  who claim they were cheated in the famous British  insurance  market.

 

After a three-hour hearing, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a temporary injunction, issued Friday by a lower court, that blocked Lloyds $4.8 billion rescue plan and seemed to open the door to a flood of lawsuits against Lloyds in U.S. courts.

 

In overruling U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne in Richmond, Va., the 4th Circuit panel said Lloyds investors should be held to contracts they signed agreeing to pursue disputes in British courts only.

 

With that threat shrunken by yesterdays decision, Lloyds managers continued to press  investors  to support its scheme to raise capital to cover huge losses incurred by many of the markets syndicates. The deadline for investors to sign on to the plan was noon today, London time.

 

Late yesterday, Lloyds said that more than 80 percent of its 34,000 members around the world had accepted the settlement. I am confident that the acceptence level will have increased yet again by today, said Lloyds Chairman David Rowland.

 

Lloyds had said it needed approval from a substantial majority of investors by today to meet British solvency requirements.

 

Peter Lane, Lloyds managing director for North America, said only 53 percent of American names, or investors, have accepted the plan, a low percentage he attributed to confusion created by the lawsuit. Lloyds plans to extend todays deadline informally for American names, provided that other names continue back the plan in high numbers, Lane said.

 

For Lloyds 3,000 American  investors , including 35 Marylanders, yesterdays decision, delivered by Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, slammed a brief hope of successfully suing Lloyds in U.S. courts.

 

 Lloyds American members argue that they should be able to seek redress for fraud under U.S. securities laws. They contend that billions in losses from asbestos and pollution cases were intentionally and secretly loaded onto their backs by Lloyds London managers.

 

In a surprise ruling Friday, Judge Payne favored the U.S. investors. He made Lloyds give them an extra two months to review the settlement proposal, and he ordered Lloyds to supply more detailed financial information about it.

 

At the same time, Payne said he found significant evidence that Lloyds had broken U.S. securities laws and that American investors should have their cases tried in U.S. courts.

 

In overruling Payne, the 4th Circuit panel said Lloyds investors should be held to contracts they signed agreeing to pursue disputes in British courts only.

 

Jack Shettle Sr., a retired insurance executive and head of a group of Maryland Lloyds members, said it would be impossible to prevail in British courts.

 

If we took on Lloyds over there, it would cost us in the vicinity of $1 million, he said. Our chance of winning there is zero. And if we lost, wed have to pay the other sides costs. So here we have Lloyds fighting against us with our own money.

 

The investors havent given up and say theyll continue to try to sue Lloyds in the United States.

 

A. Stephens Clay, a lawyer who represents 93 Lloyds investors in the Virginia case, said he may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or file new motions in lower courts.

 

 Lloyds crisis has slowly unfolded in lawsuits and insurance accounting statements over the last 10 years. In the markets unusual system, investors assume unlimited liability for insurance claims -- down to their last penny.

 

As $12 billion in asbestos, pollution and other claims piled up, disputes arose about who would pay.

 

The markets restructuring plan would place money-losing policies into a new company, called Equitas Group, and allow investors to discharge their huge liabilities.

 

But Equitas must be capitalized first, partly with $4.8 billion raised by Lloyds and partly with payments -- some more than $100,000 -- from investors. Investors who accept the plan must also give up their right to sue Lloyds.

 

 

Pub Date: 8/28/96