CGL POLICIES AND THE PROFESSIONAL LIABILITIES EXCLUSION

shutterstock_1140059885Commercial general liability (CGL) policies for contractors traditionally contain a professional liabilities exclusion.  This exclusion is generally added through a specific endorsement to eliminate coverage for professional services. Read the endorsement   The point of the exclusion, in a nutshell, is simply to eliminate a CGL policy for a contractor serving as a professional liability policy. 

 

Contractors need to appreciate a professional liabilities exclusion added through endorsement because oftentimes there are delegated design components they are responsible for. Perhaps the contractor value engineered a system and is responsible for engineering and signing and sealing the engineered documents (through its subcontractor) associated with that system.  Perhaps there is a performance specification that requires the contractor to engineer a system.  Perhaps there is a design-build component.  Regardless of the circumstance, this professional liabilities exclusion can certainly come into play, particularly if a defect is raised with the design or professional services associated with the engineered system.

 

In a non-construction case dealing with a professional liabilities exclusion, the Second District Court of Appeal in Alicea Enterprises, Inc. v. Nationwise Ins. Co. of America, Inc., 43 Fla.L.Weekly D1713b (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) held:

 

Whether a professional service has, or has not, been rendered is a fact-intensive analysis.  Thus, when deciding whether an act arises out of the rendering of or failure to render a professional service, the court must focus on the act itself and not the character of the individual performing the act.  The act from which the claim arises must be related to a professional service that requires the use of professional judgment or skill. 

 

Id. (internal citations omitted).

 

 

In this case, the insurer issued a CGL policy to a pharmacy.   The pharmacy was sued in a negligence action.  The pharmacy’s CGL insurer filed an action for declaratory relief claiming it had neither a duty to defend nor indemnify its insured (the pharmacy) since the underlying claims arose out of professional services and the CGL policy contained a professional liabilities exclusion.

 

The Second District maintained, as to the insurer’s duty to defend its insured, that the insurer had a duty to defend the pharmacy (insured) in the negligence action because the allegations in the underlying complaint could be deemed unrelated to professional services. 

 

The Second District maintained, as to the insurer’s duty to indemnify its insured, that this duty is more fact-intensive and without sufficient discovery, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the evidence brought the pharmacy’s conduct within the meaning of the professional liabilities exclusion in the CGL policy.

 

Here, while the pharmacy will get the benefit of the insurer’s duty to defend since that is triggered by the underlying complaint, the duty to indemnify is different and triggered by the facts.  It is likely that the facts in this case trigger the application of the professional liabilities exclusion, meaning the CGL insurer does NOT have a duty to indemnify the insured for the damages proven against it.  Not the situation an insured wants to be in!

 

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.

SUBCONTRACT REQUIRING ARBITRATION OUTSIDE OF FLORIDA

shutterstock_1127513288Have you entered into a subcontract that requires you to arbitrate disputes?  If so, does the arbitration provision require you to arbitrate your dispute outside of Florida?  If so, the case of Sachse Construction and Development Corp.  v. Affirmed Drywall, Corp., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1622e (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) applies and reinforces the notion: Read and consider what you sign!  

 

In Sachse Construction, a drywall subcontractor entered into a subcontract for a construction project in Miami with an  arbitration provision.   The subcontract provided that it shall be construed in accordance with Michigan law and required that arbitration shall take pace in Michigan per the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association. 

 

A dispute arose and, naturally, the drywall subcontractor did not want to arbitrate against the general contractor in Michigan.  The subcontractor argued the arbitration provision was unenforceable pursuant to Florida Statute s. 47.025, which is a Florida venue statute that renders a venue provision in construction contracts void if it requires a resident contractor to initiate venue outside of Florida (see hyperlink for more on the statute).  A clever argument.  But…the venue provision in the subcontract at-issue involved arbitration, not litigation, and the appellate court held that if the arbitration provision was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, then the Federal Arbitration Act would preempt the application of s. 47.025 and the venue provision would not be rendered unenforceable.  “[A] Florida court must enforce an arbitration agreement that is valid and enforceable under the FAA even when the agreement would be unenforceable under Florida law.”  Sasche Construction, supra

 

The Federal Arbitration Act would apply if the contract involved interstate commerce.  (Commerce, as defined under the Federal Arbitration Act, involves commerce among the states or with foreign countries).  For this reason, the appellate remanded back to the trial court to determine whether interstate commerce applied. If interstate commerce did apply then the drywall subcontractor would be required to arbitrate its dispute in Michigan.

 

Two considerations:

 

First, it would seem that the general contractor should be able support the application of interstate commerce to trigger the application of the Federal Arbitration Act.  It argued that its principal office was in Michigan, but it should be able to further argue accounting or other financial or insurance related issues were processed and performed in Michigan.  It may also argue that the materials to be incorporated into the project (e.g., the drywall, etc.) were materials that flowed through interstate commerce.  If this is the case, the drywall subcontractor will be required to arbitrate its dispute in Michigan—a huge advantage to the general contractor.  

 

Second, even if interstate commerce did not apply and the application of s. 47.025 came into effect, it is uncertain why the parties would be required to litigate the dispute versus arbitrate the dispute in Florida, instead of Michigan.  The appellate court did note that the contract did not contain a severability clause (reinforcing the importance of such a clause in a contract), but there was not any argument or real discussion regarding this issue and the invalidation of an arbitration provision as a whole.  

 

Remember, read and consider what you sign!  It can have huge implications, such as being required to arbitrate your dispute outside of Florida.

 

 

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.

 

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.