CGL INSURER’S DUTY TO DEFEND INSURED DURING PRE-SUIT 558 PROCESS: MAYBE?

shutterstock_287900015In earlier postings, I discussed the issue of whether Florida Statutes Chapter 558′s pre-suit construction defects process triggers a CGL insurer’s duty to defend.  The issue was whether Florida’s 558 pre-suit notice of a construction defect and repair process met the definition of “suit” within a standard CGL policy.

 

A standard CGL policy defines the term “suit” as:

 

“Suit” means a civil proceeding in which damages because of “bodily injury,” “property damage” or “personal and advertising injury” to which this insurance applies are alleged. “Suit” includes:

a. An arbitration proceeding in which such damages are claimed and to which the insured must submit or does submit with our consent; or

b. Any other alternative dispute resolution proceeding in which such damages are claimed and to which the insured submits with our consent.

 

The Florida Supreme Court in Altman Contractors, Inc. v. Crum & Forster Specialty Ins. Co., 42 Fla. L. Weekly S960b (2017) held that Florida’s 558 process is an “alternative dispute resolution proceeding” within the definition of suit in a CGL policy.  However,  since it falls within an “alternative dispute resolution proceeding,” the insurer’s consent is required to invoke its duty to defend its insured during this pre-suit process.  This is especially true since a recipient’s participation in the pre-suit 558 process is voluntary and not mandatory and this process does not produce any binding results.

 

Accordingly, an insured-contractor or subcontractor that receives a 558 notice of a construction defect should absolutely tender the notice to its CGL insurer.  No doubt about it.  In doing so, the insured should inquire and perhaps encourage the insurer to participate in the process and defend the insured’s interests.  If the insurer is not willing to participate in this process, this does not mean the insured should refuse too.  Rather, the insured simply needs to recognize that it will be responsible for its own fees and costs in doing so.  The insurer’s consent is required to invoke its duty to defend the insured during this process.

 

This opinion, unfortunately, doesn’t provide a whole lot of value (in my opinion) because if an insurer does not consent to participating in the process and defending its insured, it puts the insured in a position where it may be better off being sued where the insurer will now defend it and engage the consultants to investigate the claimed defects.  Many insurers, however, will capitalize on the 558 process by providing a defense to its insured as opposed to simply waiting for the inevitable construction defect lawsuit.

 

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.

 

FIVE-YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON PERFORMANCE-TYPE SURETY BONDS

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The statute of limitations on a claim against a performance-type bond is 5 years from the breach of the bond, i.e., the bond-principal’s default (based on the same statute of limitations that governs written contracts / obligations).  See Fla. Stat. s. 95.11(2)(b).   This 5-year statute of limitations is NOT extended and does NOT commence when the surety denies the claim.  It commences upon the default of the bond-principal, which would be the act constituting the breach of the bond.  This does not mean that the statute of limitations starts when a latent defect is discovered. This is not the case.  In dealing with a completed project, the five-year statute of limitations would run when the obligee (beneficiary of the bond) accepted the work.  See Federal Insurance Co. v. Southwest Florida Retirement Center, Inc., 707 So.2d 1119, 1121-22 (Fla. 1998). 

 

This 5-year statute of limitations on performance-type surety bonds has recently been explained by the Second District in Lexicon Ins. Co. v. City of Cape Coral, Florida, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2521a (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), a case where a developer planned on developing a single-family subdivision. 

 

In 2005, the developer commenced the subdivision improvements.    Pursuant to a City ordinance governing commercial and residential development of 446.09 acres, the developer was required to provide a surety bond to the City “in an amount of the estimated cost to complete all required site improvements, as determined by the City.”   The developer provided the City two surety bonds totaling $7.7 Million representing the estimated cost to complete the remaining subdivision work.  The surety bonds stated:

 

NOW, THEREFORE, THE CONDITION OF THIS OBLIGATION IS SUCH, that if the said Principal [DEVELOPER] shall construct, or have constructed, the improvements herein described, and shall save the Obligee [CITY] harmless from any loss, cost or damage by reason of its failure to complete said work, then this obligation shall be null and void, otherwise to remain in full force and effect, and the Surety, upon receipt of a resolution of the Obligee indicating that the improvements have not been installed or completed, will complete the improvements or pay to the Obligee such amount up to the Principal amount of this bond which will allow the Obligee to complete the improvements.

 

 

In March 2007, construction of the subdivision improvements ceased due to nonpayment by the developer. 

  

In 2010, the City contacted the developer’s surety claiming it wants to have the outstanding subdivision work completed.  The surety sent a letter to the City requesting information so that it could review the City’s claim.  The City did not provide the requested information because the City was considering selling the project.

 

In 2012, a buyer purchased the project from the City for $6.2 Million.

 

In 2012, the City sued the surety bonds and assigned its claim to the new buyer.  The surety argued that the five-year statute of limitations expired on the surety bonds before the City filed suit in 2012.  The trial court rejected this argument and after a bench trial judgment was entered against the surety.

 

On appeal, Second District reversed the trial court’s judgment against the surety and remanded for the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the surety holding that the claims against the surety bond are barred as a matter of law by the 5-year statute of limitations.  

 

The surety bond here, no different than a performance bond, required the developer (bond principal) to construct and complete the subdivision improvements. When the developer failed to do so (defaulted under the bond), the City’s rights under the bond accrued.  Here, construction ceased in 2007; thus, the City’s rights against the bond accrued in 2007 when the developer stopped the development of the subdivision improvements.

 

The surety bonds the developer provided the City are analogous to obligations in a performance bond.  These are analogous to performance-based obligations in a warranty bond.  These surety bonds with performance based obligations will be governed by the five-year statute of limitations governing written contracts / obligations.  The statute of limitations will accrue when the bond-principal defaults and otherwise breaches the terms of the bond.

 

If you are dealing with issues relating to a performance-type surety bond, it is important that you consult with counsel to make sure your rights are preserved.  There are many considerations with the statute of limitations being one of those considerations.

 

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 PROFESSIONAL MALPRACTICE / NEGLIGENCE CLAIM AGAINST DESIGN PROFESSIONAL

Untitled designA recent case supports a professional malpractice (negligence) claim by a general contractor against a design professional by reversing a trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the design professional and finding a question of fact remained as to an architect’s role in the renovation of a public construction project.  By the appellate court finding that a question of fact remained, the appellate court was finding that it was a triable issue, which is exactly what the general contractor wanted in this case.  Getting this issue and the facts to the jury is the leverage the general contractor presumably wanted.

 

In Perez-Gurri Corp. v. Mcleod, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2487c (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a general contractor was hired by Miami to renovate a public project.  Miami’s prime consultant subcontracted with an architectural firm to prepare the design documents for the renovation.  The construction of the project was delayed and the general contractor filed suit against the architectural firm and other design professionals for professional negligence.  The general contractor’s theory was that the design professional’s professional negligence delayed construction thereby causing the general contractor to incur increased costs (such as extended general conditions)

 

Architectural Role or Services

 

The architect claimed it played no role in the project.  It is uncertain from the opinion whether the architect was claiming it literally played no role in the project or whether its position was that its role was so limited that a duty was not owed to the general contractor.  Either way, the court was focused on the role the architect played in the renovation of the project and held a question of fact remained as to the services or role the architect played in the construction of the project.   This is a pretty loose standard because it presumably allows the jury to determine (i) whether the architect rendered services or performed a role on the project and, if so, (ii) whether the role or services caused a delay in the construction of the project.  The reason this standard appears loose is because there isn’t any discussion as to the type of professional services or role that the architect must play for a duty to be extended to the general contractor.  (For there to be a professional negligence claim against the architect, the architect must be deemed to owe a duty to the general contractor with respect to the services or role it is performing.)

 

No-Damage-For-Delay Provision

 

This case also had a discussion regarding the no-damage-for-delay provision in the general contractor’s contract with the City.  The trial court held that the architect was protected by this provision.  (A no-damage-for-delay provision provides that a contractor’s exclusive remedy for delay is an extension of time, and it is not entitled to damages.) The appellate court reversed maintaining nothing in the no-damage-for-delay provision extended to the architect.  And, the contract further provided there are no third party beneficiaries to the contract.

 

Considerations

 

This recent opinion leads to a few important points. 

 

First, as a general contractor, you ideally do not want to extend a no-damage-for-delay provision to anyone but the owner that hires you. From an owner’s perspective, if you want the no-damage-for-delay provision to benefit your consultants, you want to ensure that protection is clearly articulated in the no-damage-for-delay provision with a carve-out in the provision that references there are no third party beneficiaries.

 

Second, no-damage-for-delay provisions are not absolute, meaning there are exceptions to a no-damage-for-delay provision.  There was no discussion as to the applicability of those exceptions here.  Perhaps that is because the facts did not warrant the applicability of an exception or there was no need to go into such discussion since the no-damage-for-delay provision did not extend to the architect, or any design professional for that matter.  But, the applicability of an exception could also raise a question of fact.

 

Third, and mentioned above, there is no discussion as to the role or services the architect must perform for a duty to be extended to the general contractor.  Thus, even if the architect played a role or performed services, the case does not go into detail as to whether such role or services would even rise up to a level of the architect owing a duty to the general contractor.  This is important since the issue of duty is typically a question of law for the court to decide.

 

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.

 

POWER OF WORKERS COMPENSATION IMMUNITY ON CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

shutterstock_104939294On construction projects, workers compensation immunity is real and it is powerful.  (See also this article.)  Workers compensation immunity is why all general contractors should have workers compensation insurance and they should ensure the subcontractors they hire have workers compensation insurance.  Workers compensation insurance becomes the exclusive form of liability for an injured worker thereby immunizing an employer (absent an intentional tort, which is very hard to prove as a means to circumvent workers compensation immunity).

 

If a general contractor, with workers compensation insurance, hires a subcontractor without workers compensation insurance, the general contractor’s workers compensation insurance will be responsible in the event an injury occurs to a subcontractor’s employee.  The general contractor becomes the statutory employer. 

 

If a general contractor, with or without workers compensation insurance, hires a subcontractor with workers compensation insurance, the subcontractor’s workers compensation insurance will be responsible in the event of an injury to that subcontractor’s employee (including any sub-subcontractor’s employees). This is a main reason why the general contractor wants to ensure the subcontractors it hires has workers compensation insurance.

 

An example of the benefit of workers compensation immunity can be found in the recent case of Gladden v. Fisher Thomas, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2441a (Fla. 1st DCA 2017), dealing with a statutorily exempt corporate officer of a sub-subcontractor.  In this case, a general contractor hired two applicable subcontractors.  One of the subcontractors was a flooring subcontractor that subcontracted out a portion of its flooring work to an entity whose owner was statutorily exempt from workers compensation insurance.  This owner claimed he was injured through the actions of the other subcontractor and filed a lawsuit against the general contractor and the other subcontractor for negligence.  He claimed that workers compensation immunity should not apply because he was statutorily exempt from workers compensation.  Both the trial court and appellate court did not buy the owner’s argument.  The owner’s exemption from workers compensation insurance does not equate to an exemption from workers compensation immunity.  He is still bound by workers compensation immunity even if he is statutorily exempt.  His only recourse is confined to a claim against his company that did not procure workers compensation coverage.  That’s it.  “Since the corporate employer reaps the benefit of reduced workers’ compensation premiums for the exempt officer, it makes sense that there is a risk associated with the benefit.” Gladden, supra.

 

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.