Owners of corporations and limited liability companies worst nightmare is that a creditor will sue the company and its owners and ask the court to “pierce-the-corporate-veil” and hold the owners liable for the debts and obligations of the company. Peter B. Oh, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh has written a scholarly article called “Veil-Piercing.” Here is the abstract of the article:
From its inception veil-piercing has been a scourge on corporate law. Exactly when the veil of limited liability can and will be circumvented to reach into a shareholder’s own assets has befuddled courts, litigants, and scholars alike. And the doctrine has been bedeviled by empirical evidence of a chasm between the theory and practice of veil-piercing; notably, veil-piercing claims inexplicably seem to prevail more often in Contract than Tort, a finding that flouts the engrained distinction between voluntary and involuntary creditors.
With a dataset of 2,908 cases from 1658 to 2006 this study presents the most comprehensive portrait of veil-piercing decisions yet. Unlike predecessors, this study examines Fraud, a long-suspected accessory to veil-piercing, as well as specific sub-claims in Contract, Tort, and Fraud to provide a fine-grained portrait of voluntary and involuntary creditors. And this study analyzes the rationales instrumental to a piercing decision.
The findings largely comport with our legal intuitions. The most successful civil veil-piercing claims lie in Fraud or involve specific evidence of fraud or misrepresentation. Further, claims not only prevail more often in Tort than Contract, but adhere to the voluntary-involuntary creditor distinction. Surprisingly, though, veil-piercing presents a greater risk to individual shareholders than corporate groups.