Seventeen billion—that's "billion" with a "B"—is a number that's difficult to truly comprehend.

In 2014, that's the amount Bank of America agreed to pay in response to a government investigation into the design of the bank's mortgage-backed securities and its purchases of Merrill Lynch & Co. and Countrywide Financial Corp, making it the largest civil settlement in U.S. history.

How much insurance played a part in those settlements is unknown; the exact details of D&O insurance claims are seldom made public. What is known is that the severity of claims has been increasing, with apparently no end in sight.

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