Tribal Insurance

Tribal Immunity Held Inapplicable to Private Insurers -- Ya Think?

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled in Waltrip v. Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino that a tribal enterprise's private workers' compensation insurer did not enjoy tribal sovereign immunity and was estopped to deny coverage under a policy for which the carrier accepted premiums computed in part on a tribal employee's earnings. The tribe's insurance company had the audacity to assert sovereign immunity on its own behalf? Really? Although, I'm not sure why I'm surprised that an insurance company (or the low-rate, high-volume, non-tribal defense lawyer the carrier likely unilaterally hired to defend its tribal insured) would stoop so low.

Waltrip states what was otherwise conventional Indian legal thinking, that a private insurer cannot shield themselves from defending or paying on tort claims brought against its tribal insureds as a matter of the insured's sovereign immunity. Previous to Waltrip, the Arizona Supreme Court came the closest to making that point clear, in Smith Plumbing Co., Inc., v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.: “Because the Tribe has the power either to insist upon or waive its sovereign immunity, that immunity is considered a personal defense not available to the Tribe’s surety.”

Thankfully the common law now clearly establishes that an insurer cannot duck and run from from a personal injury claim by asserting the sovereign rights of the insured, for the carrier's own economic gain.

Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian owned law firm.  He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California.  Gabe helps tribal governments and businesses devise insurance solutions, and defends tribal insureds from serious and catastrophic tort claims. Gabe can be reached at 206.691.3631 or

AMERIND Should Clearly Waive Its Immunity in Insurance Contracts

Today's Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in AMERIND v. Malaterre is significant. AMERIND is a federally-chartered Section 17 corporation, owned by a consortium of tribes, which operates a self-insurance risk pool and is the biggest insurer of tribal homes in Indian Country. According to AMERIND's web-site, its "IHBG Protection Program currently serves over 275 housing authorities and tribal designated housing entities in the United States."

While the court's holding that AMERIND "serves as an arm of the [Charter Tribes] and not as a mere business and is thus entitled to sovereign immunity" is a resounding affirmation of tribal immunity, especially for Section 17 entities and multi-tribal consortia, the ruling could potentially render the various AMERIND property insurance policies unenforceable. As such, on a go forward basis AMERIND should include in all of its policies, language that would operate to clearly and unequivocally waive its immunity, in limited fashion, with regard to claims by tribal insureds for insurance coverage.

There are many ways to craft limited immunity waiver language that will insulate the company from undue litigation attack, e.g., the direct action lawsuit underlying Malaterre, yet assure tribal insureds that their covered losses will be paid. I hope AMERIND will allow, or continue to allow, due recourse against its tribal policies notwithstanding its momentous court victory today.

Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm.  He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California.  He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or, or via