INSURANCE FOR LARGE CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT SUCH AS A CRANE

shutterstock_559826938Many, many projects require the use of a crane.  The skyline is oftentimes filled with the sight of  cranes—one after the other.  Most of the time, the cranes are leased from an equipment supplier. What happens if the crane (or any large, leased equipment) gets damaged?

 

I wrote an article regarding a builder’s risk carrier NOT covering damage to a crane from a storm based on a common exclusion.  Another case, Ajax Bldg. Corp. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 358 F.3d 795 (11th Cir. 2004), had a similar result.

 

In this case, a prime contractor leased a crane from an equipment supplier.  The crane was used by the structural concrete subcontractor. The crane collapsed during the subcontractor’s work.  The supplier sued both the contractor and subcontractor.  The prime contractor was defended under a contractor’s equipment liability policy and the subcontractor was defended under a general liability policy it procured for its work on the project.  Ultimately, a settlement was reached where the subcontractor’s liability insurer paid a bulk of the damage.

 

However, the subcontractor’s insurer, through subrogation rights, pursued a claim against the builder’s risk carrier for the project arguing that the damage to the crane was an insured risk under the builder’s risk policy and its difference-in-conditions (DIC) supplemental endorsement to the builder’s risk policy.  The insurer argued that coverage was excluded per the following exclusion:

 

Coverage

 

a. Structures … fixtures, equipment, machinery and similar property which will become a permanent part of the structure

 

Property NOT Covered [Exclusion]

 

a. Machinery, tools, equipment, or other property which will not become a permanent part of the structure(s) described in the Declarations or Schedule unless the replacement cost of such property is included in the contract price and reported to us;

 

The builder’s risk policy did not cover damage to the crane because the crane was equipment which will NOT become a permanent part of the structure.   The Eleventh Circuit agreed:

 

In addition to insuring the structure itself, these policies also typically include building materials, machinery, and equipment on the premises that are awaiting installation.  This kind of machinery and equipment is clearly different from a contractor’s machinery and equipment that is used in the construction process, such as the damaged craneThe type of machinery and equipment intended to fall under the definition of “covered property” in a builder’s risk policy is that which will become a permanent part of the structure—this includes materials such as elevators, doors, windows, electrical equipment, and water pumps. However, since these materials are generally delivered to the site before they are required in order to avoid delays in construction, ownership of the property may not yet belong to the owner of the building.  It is these materials that the DIC [builder's risk] policy is referring to when it provides coverage for “property of others.” Although Kelley’s [supplier's] damaged crane technically falls within the category “property of others,” it is not the type of property to become a part of the building and covered under a builder’s risk policy; consequently, it is expressly excluded in the DIC policy by the provision requiring covered property to be that which will become a permanent part of the structure.

 Ajax Bldg., 358 F.3d at 799-800 (internal citations omitted).

 

Cranes are expensive so it is important to insure potential damage to cranes (and any equipment used for purposes of construction).   Noteworthy insurance considerations to consult with your insurance broker about include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Contractor’s equipment insurance-  you want to confirm any sublimit for any leased equipment, whether it is based on replacement cost or actual cash value, and whether you need to report such leased equipment to your insurer per the policy in advance of using the equipment
  • Equipment liability coverage-  you want to ensure your liability policy insures equipment you rent or you have an endorsement that provides coverage for equipment rented or leased from others  
  • Builder’s Risk – the exclusion in the builder’s risk policy discussed above for equipment that will not become a permanent part of the structure is a common exclusion, so you want other insurance to cover this risk and/or confirm whether there is an endorsement modifying that exclusion

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

PRE-SUIT SETTLEMENT OFFERS AND CONSTRUCTION LIEN ACTIONS

shutterstock_127849640It is unfortunate, but in certain matters, a construction lien foreclosure action is not actually driven by the principal amount in dispute.  Oh no.  Rather, it is driven by attorney’s fees.  That’s right.  Attorney’s fees. This is true even though Florida applies the significant issues test to determine the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees.  However, oftentimes  the prospect of attorney’s fees is enough for parties to fear that exposure. 

 

There is a 1985 Florida Supreme Court case that I like to cite if applicable, C.U. Associates, Inc. v. R.B. Grove, Inc., 472 So.2d 1177, 1179 (Fla. 1985), that finds, “in order to be a prevailing party entitled to the award of attorney’s fees pursuant to section 713.29 [a construction lien claim], a litigant must have recovered an amount exceeding that which was earlier offered in settlement of the claim.”  Accord Sullivan v. Galske, 917 So.2d 412 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (explaining that although contractor is receiving a judgment in his favor, he may not be the prevailing party if the homeowner offered to settle prior to the lawsuit for an amount equal to or greater  than the award in the judgment).

 

If there is a pre-suit settlement offer on the table, and it is a good faith offer (which presumably it is), than that offer can very well come into play to determine whether the party that will the action should be deemed the prevailing party for purposes of attorney’s fees.  This is still good law.  Therefore, before readily dismissing a pre-suit offer, consider the potential ramifications if you are unable to beat this offer at trial. Banking on attorney’s fees may not be prudent if there is a pre-suit offer that is within striking distance from where you need to be or can very well be a likely outcome based on a reasonable argument raised by the opposing party.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

PROPERTY INSURANCE EXCLUSION: LEAKAGE OF WATER OVER 14 DAYS OR MORE

shutterstock_196921499The recent opinion of Whitley v. American Integrity Ins. Co. of Florida, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D1503a (Fla. 5th DCA 2018), as a follow-up to this article on the property insurance exclusion regarding the “constant or repeated seepage or leakage of water…over a period of 14 or more days,” is a beneficial opinion to insureds. 

 

In this case, the insured had a vacation home.  A plumbing leak occurred that caused water damage to the home.  The plumbing leak occurred during a period of time that lasted approximately 30 days.  For this reason, the property insurer denied the claim per the exclusion that the policy does not cover loss caused by repeated leakage of water over a period of 14 or more days from a plumbing system.  Summary judgment was granted by the trial court in favor of the insurer based on this exclusion. 

 

The insured countered that the policy did not address whether it covered a loss occurring within the first 14 days.  The insured argued, and the appellate court agreed, that the insurer therefore failed to establish that the water loss did not occur within the first 14 days.  “The undisputed fact that the property was exposed to water for more than fourteen days did not establish that the loss occurred on the fourteenth or later day of exposure pursuant to the exclusionary provision.”   Whitley, supra.

 

This is a beneficial case to an insured because if loss occurred due to the continued seepage or leakage of water over a period of 14 days or more (e.g., continuous plumbing leak), the insured can establish it is still entitled to coverage for loss that occurs during the first 14 days.  This puts the onus on the insurer to argue the loss occurred after the 14th day.  However, the insured will counter that the loss occurred during the first 14 days.  In other words, the insured can make this a question of fact for the jury.  

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

GENERAL CONTRACTOR’S ABILITY TO SUPPLEMENT SUBCONTRACTOR PER SUBCONTRACT

shutterstock_142349770As a subcontractor, you need to appreciate that the subcontract you (more than likely) sign is going to have you bear risk associated with furnishing manpower to maintain the prime contractor’s schedule and progress.   A subcontractor can factor some of this risk into the lump sum amount it agrees to in the subcontract.  But, from the general/prime contractor’s perspective, it is very important that this risk is borne by the subcontractor because there is no such thing as a schedule written in stone.  The baseline schedule, whether attached to the subcontract or not, will change.  Activities will be re-sequenced.  Activities will be added.  Activities will overlap.  Activity start dates and finish dates will change.  It is the nature of construction.  As a subcontractor, you know all of this because it is the same no matter the project. Schedules are never written in stone — they change on a regular basis.

 

The subcontract will include a number of provisions that address the schedule, the prime contractor’s discretion to adjust the schedule and supplement the work, and the subcontractor’s requirement to maintain progress.  These are provisions that shift risk to the subcontractor including:

 

  • The subcontractor will furnish all manpower to complete its scope of work;
  • Time is of the essence with respect to the subcontractor’s performance of its work;
  • The prime contractor has the right to decide the time and order of various portions of the subcontractor’s work;
  • The subcontractor must prosecute its work in a prompt and diligent manner and at such times as the prime contractor directs;
  • The subcontractor must keep itself thoroughly informed as to the overall progress of the project;
  • The subcontractor must not delay, hinder, or interfere with the progress of the project;
  • The subcontractor must notify the prime contractor within “X” days after the occurrence of the circumstances giving rise to a change (or delay) or else waive such claim for additional time or compensation;
  • If the subcontractor fails to furnish sufficient manpower or prosecute the work with promptness and diligence, which is not corrected after “X” days after receiving notice, the prime contractor can declare the subcontractor in default, supplement the subcontractor, terminate the subcontract in whole or in part, and/or complete the subcontract work at the expense of the subcontractor;
  • The prime contractor can withhold payments if the subcontractor is unable to comply with subcontractual obligations, perform its work, or is delaying or is in reasonable danger of delaying the work; and
  • The subcontractor is required to indemnify the prime contractor for damages resulting from its breaches of the subcontract (which may be an indemnification provision separate from an indemnification for personal injury or property damage claims).

 

These types of provisions are crafted a number of different ways, are perhaps more onerously drafted, but the intent is the same relating to the subcontractor assuming risk and ensuring the prime contractor has recourse against the subcontractor associated with that risk.   (An example of such risk-shifting provisions in a subcontract can be found here.)  Again, these are important provisions for prime contractors to include in subcontracts.  They are also important provisions for subcontractors to factor in the risk associated with the subcontract amount.

 

In a recent bench trial, MWH Constructors, Inc. v. Brown and Brown Electric, Inc., 2018 WL 2087687 (S.D.Fla. 2018), a prime contractor sued its electrical subcontractor for breach of subcontract and contractual indemnification associated with the subcontractor’s inability to maintain progress during the construction of a water treatment project.  The subcontractor counter-sued for its contract balance.  The subcontract at-issue contained all of the provisions discussed above.

 

During the subcontractor’s scope of work, its president and qualifier died.  Thereafter, it began to fall behind schedule and was not furnishing sufficient manpower. There were numerous discussions between the prime contractor and subcontractor regarding the subcontractor’s inability to timely complete its work.  It was discussed that the subcontractor needed additional manpower and needed to work on Saturdays to recover lost time.   The subcontractor, however, was unable to abide by its commitments.  Further meetings were held and notifications were sent to the subcontractor. The public owner notified the prime contractor the job was delayed, the electrical subcontractor was behind schedule, and was threatening to assess liquidated damages.  Finally, after the subcontractor was unable to improve its progress, the prime contractor declared the subcontractor in default and supplemented its work with another electrical subcontractor and back-charged the subcontractor for such costs.

 

Due to the supplementation, the prime contractor paid the supplemental electrical subcontractor in excess of the defaulted subcontractor’s contract balance.  The prime contractor also had to pay the defaulted subcontractor’s lower tiered subcontractors and suppliers because the defaulted subcontractor did not pay them (likely because it did not have the cash flow due to the prime contractor withholding contract balance). 

 

The trial court entered judgment in favor of the prime contractor against the subcontractor finding that the prime contractor was justified supplementing the subcontractor in accordance with the numerous contractual provisions.  The prime contractor put on evidence at trial supporting the justification in conjunction with its rights under the prime contract. 

 

Of importance, the trial court was not going to rewrite the subcontract or the risks the subcontractor assumed in the subcontract:

 

Contracts are voluntary undertakings, and contracting parties are free to bargain for-and specify-the terms and conditions of their agreement.  That freedom is a constitutionally protected right.

***

Thus, [i]t is not the function of the courts to rewrite a contract or interfere with the freedom of contract or substitute their judgment for that of the parties thereto in order to relieve one of the parties from the apparent hardship of an improvident bargain.

***

Rather, the court’s task is to apply the parties’ contract as-written, not rewrite it under the guise of judicial construction.

 

MWH Constructors, Inc., 2018 WL at *6 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.