SUBCONTRACTOR’S LIABILITY INSURER’S DUTY TO DEFEND THE “ADDITIONAL INSURED” GENERAL CONTRACTOR

shutterstock_306317915Construction projects can lead to insurance coverage disputes.  One such dispute arises when a general contractor is sued for construction defects and resulting property damage and it tenders the defense of the claim / lawsuit to an implicated subcontractor’s liability insurer.  A general contractor does this because it (hopefully) will be an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.  Being identified as an additional insured under a subcontractor’s liability policy is imperative for a general contractor as part of its normal risk assessment. The issue will typically come up in any construction defect lawsuit because if the general contractor is an additional insured it will, and should, tender the defense of the lawsuit to implicated subcontractors’ insurers. 

 

Sometimes, a subcontractor’s liability insurer will deny the duty to defend the general contractor.  Yes, this happens.  When it does, the general contractor’s insurer will provide a defense to the general contractor but may pursue the subcontractor’s insurer for reimbursement of fees and costs based on the general contractor being an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.

 

For example, in Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America v. Amerisure Ins. Co., 161 F.Supp.3d 113 (N.D.Fla. 2015), the general contractor’s liability insurer (Travelers) sued a stucco subcontractor’s liability insurer (Amerisure) where the underlying issue was whether the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.  The subcontractor’s insurer refused to defend the general contractor in an underlying construction defect lawsuit.  The general contractor’s insurer provided a defense in the underlying lawsuit and sued the subcontractor’s insurer for reimbursement.  

 

Under Florida law, a liability insurer’s duty to defend extends to an entire lawsuit if any claim in the lawsuit may come within the policy’s coverage.”  Travelers Property Casualty Co., 161 F.Supp.3d at 1137.    The underlying complaint against the general contractor alleged property damage caused by defective stucco installation.  This meant that the complaint triggered the duty to defend and the Court held the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.  For this reason, the Court maintained that the subcontractor’s insurer (Amerisure) owed the general contractor’s insurer (Travelers) the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in the defense of the general contractor in the underlying lawsuit:

 

When Amerisure [subcontractors’ insurer] failed to step up, Travelers [general contractor’s insurer] did what Amerisure should have done: Travelers provided Yates [general contractor] a defense. The attorneys Travelers hired chose to defend the case not only by answering the claims but also by asserting third-party claims against subcontractors, including Jemco [stucco subcontractor]. Travelers paid the fees and costs incurred in connection with the third-party claims, apparently concluding that this was the best strategy for defending the claims and that its duty to defend Yates thus obligated it to pay for the third-party claims as well. There is support for that view. 

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Had Amerisure provided a defense as it should have done, the attorneys it hired might or might not have made the  same strategic decision as the attorneys hired by Travelers. But now Amerisure can complain, at most, about unreasonable decisions, not about decisions that reasonably could have gone either way. As a leading commentator has put it, when an insurer breaches its duty to defend,

the insured is justified in assuming the defense of the action and is released from the contractual obligation to leave the management of the case to the insurer. Not only does the insurer lose the power to control the defense or dictate to the insured how the case should be handled, but the insurer cannot complain about the conduct of the defense by the insured or the negligent handling of the case by the insured’s attorney.

 

Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America, 161 F.Supp.3d at 1138-39 (internal citations 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.

QUICK NOTE: HAVE YOU SEEN THE “SEPARATION OF INSUREDS” PROVISION IN YOUR CGL POLICY?

imagesHave you ever looked at your CGL policy and seen the “Separation of Insureds” provision? You must have seen it but perhaps it does not ring a bell.  If you are an additional insured under another’s policy or have additional insured under your policy, this is an important provision.  Check out this article to understand the application of the “Separation of Insureds” provision in your CGL policy. 

 

 

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.

 

THE “PRIMARY AND NONCONTRIBUTORY” INSURANCE REQUIREMENT

CaptureIf you were ever involved in a construction defect claim or lawsuit, you may have heard the phrase “primary and noncontributory” when referring to YOUR insurance coverage.  Or, you may have come across this phrase when discussing with your insurance broker the additional insured insurance coverage requirements you need to provide pursuant to your contract.

 

But, what does this mean when referring to YOUR insurance coverage? This phrase refers to the priority of YOUR insurance coverage.

 

For instance, a general contractor will require that that its subcontractors obtain CGL insurance coverage that not only names the general contractor as an additional insured (for both ongoing and completed operations), but also includes an endorsement reflecting that the subcontractor’s policy is “primary and noncontributory.”  (See above picture for example of endorsement)   The subcontract may provide, by way of example, that, “Insurance coverage provided by you [subcontractor] to the additional insured [general contractor] shall be primary and noncontributory with respect to any insurance coverage otherwise available to the additional insured.”  This means that if the general contractor is sued associated with the negligence of its subcontractor, it will tender the claim to the subcontractor’s insurer to defend and indemnify it since it will (hopefully) be an additional insured under the policy.  The subcontractor’s policy is the “primary” policy without contribution from the general contractor’s policy (as the general contractor’s policy will really come into play as excess insurance).

 

otherThe general contractor, to be safe and circumspect, may want the subcontractor to obtain a “primary and noncontributory” endorsement that says that the subcontractor’s insurance will be primary and noncontributory when required by written contract.  The reason this is safe is because most CGL policies already contain a section called “Other Insurance.” In this section (as depicted in part in the adjacent picture), the policy will state that it is primary except when other insurance (specified in the policy) is available in which case it will serve as excess insurance.  One of the other insurance conditions that will deem your policy as excess is when you are identified as an additional insured under another’s policy (e.g., the subcontractor’s policy that identifies the general contractor as an additional insured is the primary policy and the general contractor’s policy will serve as excess insurance). The primary and noncontributory endorsement modifies this “Other Insurance” language.

 

 

Understanding the application of insurance and the interrelationship of potential policies is never easy.  But, this understanding is of the utmost importance for construction risk assessment purposes where risk is inherent in the very nature of construction.

 

 

 

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.

 

QUALIFYING FOR ADDITIONAL INSURED STATUS

images-1Additional Insured status is a vital part of risk management in construction.  I’ve previously discussed additional insured status under general liability policies in http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/understanding-your-rights-as-an-additional-insured/ and http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/make-sure-additional-insured-coverage-is-for-completed-operations/.

 

 The recent decision in King Cole Condominium Association, Inc. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co., 2014 WL 2191944 (S.D.Fla. 2014), further elaborates on additional insured status under a general liability (CGL) policy.  In this case, a condominium unit owner injured herself while the condominium was undergoing construction work.  The unit owner sued the association and the general contractor the association hired to perform the work.  As it pertained to the association, the unit owner contended that the association was negligent including being negligent for selecting the general contractor that caused her injuries.  The general contractor, as typically is the case, had a CGL policy.  The association tendered the defense of the unit owner’s claims to the contractor’s liability insurer as an additional insured; however, the insurer denied coverage. The association then sued the insurer seeking a declaratory judgment asking for the court to declare that it was an additional insured under the contractor’s policy and, thus, the insurer had a duty to defend and indemnify the association in the unit owner’s action against the association and general contractor.

 

The dispositive issue in this dispute was whether the association should qualify as an additional insured under the general contractor’s liability policy. The association claimed it was an additional insured because any liability assessed against it was directly attributable to the defective condition created by the general contractor that caused the unit owner’s injuries.  The insurer countered that the association would only qualify as an additional insured with respect to liability directly attributable to the general contractor’s performance at the condominium.

 

The additional insured endorsement in the contractor’s policy provided that an additional insured was:

 

 

“Any person or organization for whom the named insured has agreed by written “insured contract” to designate as an additional insured subject to all provisions and limitations of this policy …

 

WHO IS AN INSURED (Section II) is amended to include as an insured the person or organization shown in the Schedule, but only with respect to liability directly attributable to your performance of ongoing operations for that insured.”

 

The general contractor’s liability policy further contained a definition for the term “insured contract” that provided:

 

“f. That part of any other contract or agreement pertaining to your business (including an indemnification of a municipality in connection with work performed for a municipality) under which you assume the tort liability of another party to pay for “bodily injury” or “property damage” to a third person or organization, provided the “bodily injury” or “property damage” is caused, in whole or in part, by you or by those acting on your behalf. Tort liability means a liability that would be imposed by law in the absence of any contract or agreement.”

 

 

Based on this policy language, the Southern District stated that for the association to qualify as an additional insured under the general contractor’s policy, it must establish (a) its contract with the general contractor was an insured contract within the meaning of the policy and (2) the association only sought coverage as an additional insured under the policy regarding liability directly attributable to the general contractor’s performance, i.e., the additional insured status is for vicarious liability or negligence directly caused by the contractor for which the association was sued.  If the association failed to provide either requirement, then it failed to qualify as an additional insured.

 

The contract between the association and general contractor provided that the general contractor would identify the association as an additional insured.  Presumably, this contract met the definition of an insured contract within the meaning of the policy as it likely required the contractor to indemnify the association for bodily injury and property damage caused by the contractor’s performance.  Thus, the crux of whether the association qualified as an additional insured under the contractor’s policy turned on whether the unit owner was suing the association for liability directly attributable to the general contractor’s performance (i.e., vicarious liability).

 

 

To determine whether the unit owner’s claims contained allegations triggering vicarious liability, the Southern District looked to the allegations in the unit owner’s underlying complaint against the association and contractor.  In analyzing the unit’s owner complaint and finding that the association did not qualify as an additional insured, the Southern District held:

 

 

Florida law requires a claimant to specifically plead vicarious liability as a separate cause of action.  Because Satarsky’s [unit owner] complaint contains no separate cause of action for vicarious liability, the Court rejects King Cole’s [association] contention. Furthermore, even if Florida procedural law did not apply or if the separate cause of action requirement was not the law in Florida, there is nothing in the complaint to suggest that Satarsky sued King Cole for vicarious liability. To the contrary, the allegations against King Cole all relate to its own alleged negligence. Therefore, under the facts here, Mid–Continent has no duty to defend or indemnify King Cole with respect to the Satarsky lawsuit.”

King Cole Condominium Association, supra (internal citations omitted).  

 

This case contains a couple of important take-aways:

 

  • Additional insured status is not designed to protect the additional insured for its OWN negligence.  Rather, it is designed to defend and indemnify the additional insured for the negligence directly caused / attributable to the primary insured; hence, the Southern District explaining that the underlying complaint  by the unit owner needed to trigger vicarious liability such that the association was being sued for the negligence of the contractor.

 

  • To determine whether an insurer has a duty to defend, the court will look to the allegations in the underlying complaint.  In this instance, the underlying complaint asserted claims against the association for its own negligence, but not for  vicarious liability  associated with the negligence of the contractor.   When preparing a complaint in which a party is seeking insurance coverage, it is important to plead allegations that may give rise to potential coverage.

 

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.