New York

Harvey Weinstein's Insurers Balk at Paying His Legal Bills

Weinstein's legal team says the insurers are trying to weasel out of their obligations and have unfairly sided with the accusers

Harvey Weinstein is locked in a messy battle with insurance companies over his steadily mounting legal bills.

The insurance giant Chubb and other carriers that wrote liability policies for Weinstein and his film company are arguing in court that they shouldn't have to pay for his defense against allegations of rape and sexual harassment.

The policies, they have written in court filings, specifically excluded coverage for "such blatantly egregious and intentionally harmful acts."

"Mr. Weinstein has nevertheless repeatedly attempted to foist his defense of these lawsuits upon the plaintiff insurers," lawyers for the companies wrote.

Weinstein's legal team, which denies that he assaulted any of his dozens of female accusers, has shot back that the insurers are trying to weasel out of their obligations and have unfairly sided with the accusers.

In court papers, they said Weinstein and his company had paid the insurers a fortune in premiums during the past 25 years. At times, they have been indignant in claiming that he is entitled to millions of dollars in coverage.

"Mr. Weinstein has been left in an untenable position, and his patience has run out," they wrote in one court filing.

Weinstein has countersued Chubb and its affiliates, accusing the companies of breach of contract and bad faith.

Weinstein, 66, has pleaded not guilty to attacking three women and is out on $1 million bail. A new count added this month, predatory sexual assault, carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 25 year to life.

By the insurance companies' latest count, Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. are facing 18 lawsuits and other claims filed just since last year.

They include a suit by the New York attorney general accusing the company of failing to protect employees from sexual harassment and others by actresses Kadian Noble and Dominique Huett alleging sexual assault.

It's unclear how much the legal firestorm is costing Weinstein.

To fight the charges, Weinstein hired Ben Brafman, one of New York City's most prominent defense attorneys. His team also includes private investigators trying to turn up evidence that backs his claims that the encounters with the alleged victims were consensual.

Mounting a defense on multiple fronts "can be enormously complex and expensive," said Los Angele-based attorney Thomas Mesereau.

Mesereau, who helped Michael Jackson win acquittal in his 2005 child molestation trial and was on the legal team for Bill Cosby when he was convicted in his second sexual-assault trial, said that how the insurance feud turns out hinges on what constitutes criminal versus negligent behavior. If Weinstein acted criminally, the insurers probably don't have to pay for his defense.

"The question about where one begins and the other ends can be fuzzy," he said.

The insurance companies went to federal court this year to ask for a judgment finding they have no duty to pay to defend the rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment claims against Weinstein.

One carrier that had promised to provide Weinstein with $300,000 in "crisis assistance" benefits in the event he faced a situation involving "significant adverse regional or national media coverage" has balked at paying up.

Weinstein had a policy with another company, National Union, that offered $10 million for legal defense including criminal investigations, his lawyers said in court papers. They want the court to force the company to pay up, plus damages for withholding the money. Settlement talks are ongoing.

Separately, an insurance company that covers the Walt Disney Co. has filed a suit in New York also seeking to avoid paying for Weinstein's defense. Weinstein ran the Miramax studio for Disney from 1993 to 2005.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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