A THIRD PARTY SUING A LIABILITY CARRIER

untitledIt is important to understand liability coverage, especially if you are a third party seeking liability coverage.

 

Florida Statute s. 627.4136 provides in material part:

 

It shall be a condition precedent to the accrual or maintenance of a cause of action against a liability insurer by a person not an insured under the terms of the liability insurance contract that such person shall first obtain a settlement or verdict against a person who is an insured under the terms of such policy for a cause of action which is covered by the policy.”

 

Under this statute, a third party cannot sue a liability policy seeking a declaration that there is coverage for its claims without first obtaining a settlement or verdict against the insured of the liability policy. See Lantana Insur., Ltd. v. Thornton, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1537a (Fla. 3d DCA 2013) (finding that trial court should have dismissed third party’s claim against liability policy where there had been no settlement or verdict against the insured and, thus, no compliance with Fla.Stat. s. 627.4136).

 

What if the third party is an additional insured under the primary insured’s liability policy? Section 627.4136 has also been referred as the non-joinder statute because even though an additional insured is technically an insured under the liability policy, a claim seeking coverage under the primary insured’s policy should either be stayed or severed from the third party’s claim against the primary insured. The reason is so the availability of insurance has no effect whatsoever on a jury’s determination of the primary insured’s liability and damage. See General Star Indemnity Co. v. Boran Craig Barber Engel Construction Co., Inc., 895 So.2d 1136 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005).

 

For example, in General Star Indemnity, a general contractor sued its fire sprinkler subcontractor for damages when the fire sprinkler ruptured. In the same lawsuit, the general contractor sued the subcontractor’s liability carrier for a declaratory judgment seeking coverage as an additional insured under the subcontractor’s policy. The insurer moved to sever and stay the claims against it which the trial court denied. On appeal through a petition for writ of certiorari, the Second District, relying on s. 627.4136, reversed the trial court holding that the general contractor’s claims against the subcontractor’s liability carrier should have been severed or stayed from the contractor’s action against its subcontractor.

 

Although an additional insured (e.g., general contractor) is an insured under a liability policy provided by the primary insured (e.g., subcontractor) and can sue the liability carrier (without first obtaining a settlement or verdict against the primary insured), it should not be able to do so in its action against the primary insured. It would be prejudicial to the primary insured and liability carrier because the jury would know about the availability of insurance. Notwithstanding, there is nothing that would prevent the additional insured from trying to file a separate declaratory action against the primary insured’s liability carrier and at least trying to consolidate the cases for purposes of discovery if the suits remain pending in the same court.

 

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.