BAILOUT FOR AN IMPROPERLY DRAFTED INDEMNIFICATION PROVISION

shutterstock_1060051475A recent opinion came out that held that even though an indemnification provision in a subcontract was unenforceable per Florida Statute s. 725.06, the unenforceable portion is merely severed out of the indemnification clause leaving the rest of the clause intact.  In essence, an otherwise invalid indemnification clause is bailed out by this ruling (which does not even discuss whether this subcontract had a severability provision that states that if any portion of any provision in the subcontract is invalid, such invalid portion shall be severed and the remaining portion of the provision shall remain in full force and effect). 

 

This opinion arose from a construction defect case, CB Contractxors, LLC v. Allens Steel Products, Inc.,43 Fla.L.Weekly D2773a (Fla. 5thDCA 2018), where the general contractor, sued by an association, flowed down damages to subcontractors based on the contractual indemnification provision in the subcontracts.  Subcontractors moved to dismiss the contractual indemnification claim because it was not compliant with Florida Statute s. 725.06.  The indemnification provision required the subcontractors to indemnify the general contractor even for the general contractors own partial negligence, but failed to specify a monetary limitation on the extent of the indemnification as required by Florida Statute s. 725.06.  (The indemnification clause in the subcontract was the standard intermediate form of indemnification that required the subcontractor to indemnify the general contractor for claims regardless of whether the claims were caused in part by the general contractor.) 

 

The trial court held that because the indemnification clause was unenforceable under Florida Statute s. 725.06, the general contractor’s contractual indemnification claims fail.   But, the appellate court reversed providing a bailout to an unenforceable indemnification clause by simply severing out the unenforceable portion. Thus, while a subcontractor would be required to indemnify the general contractor for its own negligence, it would not be required to indemnify the general contractor for any partial negligence caused by the general contractor.  

 

This case leads to a couple of very important takeaways:

 

  • Make sure the indemnification clauses in your construction contracts comply with Florida Statute s. 725.06.  Have a construction attorney review the indemnification provision.  Do not, and I mean, do not, bank on this ruling that even if the indemnification provision is noncompliant, only the unenforceable part will be severed.  That is not good practice.

 

  • Include a severability provision in your contract. Always.  Even though this case did not discuss such a clause, the clause will bolster the argument that only the unenforceable aspect of the provision should be severed. 

 

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.

UPDATE: DOES FLORIDA STATUTE s. 725.06 APPLY TO (HORIZONTAL) UTILITY CONTRACTS?

shutterstock_486800107In a prior article, I discussed a recent case that held that Florida Statute s. 725.06–the statute that governs indemnification provisions where the indemnitor is required to indemnify the indemnitee for personal injury or property damage caused wholly or partially by the indemnitee–does not apply to a horizontal, utility project as it only applies to the “construction, alteration, repair, or demolition of a building, structure, appurtenance, or appliance” per the wording of the statute.  (Please refer to the article regarding the facts of the case.)  From a logic standpoint, the case did not make a whole lot of sense as there would be restrictions on indemnification provisions for vertical projects but not a horizontal project such as underground utility improvements.  The reason this was an important issue in the case is because if s. 725.06 did govern the indemnification provision, it was not in compliance with the requirements of the statute.  If it was not in compliance, then it was not an enforceable indemnification provision.  The enforceability of an indemnification provision is a BIG deal!

 

Recently, the Fourth District substituted a new opinion, Block Builders, LLC v. Katryniok, 2018 WL 194095 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), although I cannot say it is that helpful.  The appellate court still maintained that Florida Statute s. 725.06 did not apply to the contract at-issue since the contract involved underground utility improvements and the wording of s. 725.06 only applied to the “construction, alteration, repair, or demolition of a building, structure, appurtenance, or appliance.”  However, in this substituted opinion, the appellate court held that while s. 725.06 did not apply to the contract at-issue, this does not mean it can never apply to a utility contract.  Whatever that specifically means is unknown.     

 

Indemnification is a very importation provision in any construction contract. Very important.   It is a provision that should never be overlooked and it should be drafted with an eye towards the requirements of s. 725.06.  Parties need to understand the application of the indemnification provision, particularly in light of the liability insurance they maintain for purposes of the project.  Irrespective of this appellate court’s opinion, parties really should make sure their indemnification provision complies with s. 725.06.  Banking on the hopeful position that s. 725.06 does not govern their construction contract seems overly optimistic and quite unnecessary since a ruling that the provision is unenforceable can be damaging.  

 

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.

THERE ARE TIMES AN EQUITABLE SUBROGATION CLAIM IS THE MOST PRACTICAL RECOURSE FOR REIMBURSEMENT

shutterstock_627721505Equitable subrogation is a claim that can be pursued when a party (referred to as the subrogee) pays for damages to protect its interest–perhaps to mitigate its own exposure–seeks reimbursement from another party primarily liable for the damages.  There are times a party seeking reimbursement for purely economic losses is best able to pursue an equitable subrogation claim, as opposed to a common law indemnification or negligence claim.

 

Equitable subrogation is generally appropriate where: (1) the subrogee made the payment to protect [its] own interest, (2) the subrogee did not act as a volunteer, (3) the subrogee was not primarily liable for the debt, (4) the subrogee paid off the entire debt, and (5) subrogation would not work any injustice to the rights of a third party.

Tank Tech, Inc. v. Valley Tank Testing, L.L.C., 43 Fla.L.Weekly D868a (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) quoting Dade Cty. Sch. Bd. v. Radio Station WQBA, 731 So.2d 638, 646 (Fla. 1999).

 

Equitable subrogation is not dependent on a contract—it is simply an “equitable remedy for restitution to one [the subrogee] who in the performance of some duty has discharged a legal obligation which should have been met, either wholly or partially, by another.”  Tank Tech, Inc., supra, quoting W. Am. Ins. Co. v. Yellow Cab Co. of Orlando, Inc., 495 So.2d 204, 206 (Fla. 5th DCA 1986).

 

As shown in the recent decision below, there are times an equitable subrogation claim will generate more traction for purposes of a reimbursement claim than a negligence claim or common law indemnification claim, because an equitable subrogation claim does not require the party seeking reimbursement to show a duty is owed to it by the party it is seeking reimbursement from.

  

The recent decision of Tank Tech, Inc. involved damage to underground petroleum storage tanks at Circle K locations.  Company “A,” the subrogee, had been hired by Circle K to retrofit existing tanks by adding an interior wall inside of the tanks.  Company “B” was separately hired by Circle K to test the interstitial space between the new interior wall installed by Company “A” and the existing tank wall.  There was no contractual relationship between Company “A” and Company “B.”

 

After the tanks were retrofitted, Circle K notified Company “A” that the modified tanks were damaged and failing.  Although Company’s “A” investigation revealed the failure was the result of Company’s “B’s” testing methodology, Company “A” nevertheless repaired the damage to the tanks because its contract with Circle K required it to do so regardless of whether the damage was caused by a third party, such as Company “B.”

 

Company “A” then sued Company “B” for reimbursement of its repair costs under various claims, one of which was equitable subrogation.  Each party had expert opinions that pointed to the other for the cause of the tanks’ failure and damage.  The trial court granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Company “B” finding that equitable subrogation did not apply.  This summary judgment was reversed on appeal as the Second District maintained that there were factual issues supporting the basis of the equitable subrogation claim:

 

Tank Tech’s [Company “A”] contract with Circle K obligated it to repair damages to the USTs [tanks]. But Tank Tech’s contractual obligation to Circle K did not convert Tank Tech into a “volunteer” to pay for damages caused by a third party and thus did not prevent the application of the equitable subrogation doctrine. Instead, Tank Tech was merely fulfilling its legal obligation to Circle K which was a necessary means of protecting itself from liability to Circle K. And Tank Tech, by virtue of Dr. Cignatta’s affidavit [expert opinion establishing Company “B” caused failure to tanks], established a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Tank Tech or Valley Tank [Company “B”] was primarily liable for the damages. If Tank Tech is ultimately successful in proving that Valley Tank caused the damage to the USTs, then it would be entitled to seek any damages it incurred as a result of having to repair the damaged USTs.  To hold that Tank Tech is precluded from pursuing a claim for subrogation would leave Tank Tech without a remedy, a “most unfair and inequitable result.” 

Tank Tech, Inc., supra (internal citations omitted).

 

Negligence and Common Law Indemnification

 

Relatedly, Company “A” also sued Company “B” for negligence and common law indemnification for repairing tanks it claimed were caused by Company “B’s” testing methodology.  The trial court also granted summary judgment in favor of Company “B” on these claims.  Unlike the equitable subrogation claim, the Second District affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Company “B” on these claims. 

 

For Company “A” to sustain a negligence claim, it would have to establish that Company “B” owed it a duty.  Without a duty owed, there is no negligence claim.  Whether there is a duty is a question of law for the court.   In this case, when dealing with only economic losses, the relationship between the parties—Company “A” and Company “B”—needs to be examined to determine whether a special relationship exists to warrant creating a duty to protect the economic interests of another.  “[I]n order to proceed on a common law negligence claim based solely on economic loss, there must be some sort of link between the parties or some other extraordinary circumstance that justifies recognition of such a claim.”  Tank Tech, Inc., supra.   Here, the Second District agreed that Company “B” did not owe Company “A” a duty to support a negligence claim:

 

The reason why the negligence claim fails here is because there is neither a special relationship between Valley Tank [Company “B”] and Tank Tech [Company “A”] nor any extraordinary circumstance that would require imposition of a duty. Tank Tech’s injury did not flow from Valley Tank’s testing of the USTs [tanks]. Instead, Tank Tech seeks to recover the money it spent in repairing the USTs, an expense that was the result of a negotiated contract between Tank Tech and Circle K. There was no contract between Valley Tank and Tank Tech obligating Valley Tank to repair any USTs it damaged during testing or otherwise obligating Valley Tank to repay Tank Tech for the expenses incurred pursuant to Tank Tech’s contract with Circle K. And Valley Tank’s testing did not cause any personal injury or property damage to Tank Tech, the types of injuries for which the common law of negligence has historically permitted recovery.

***

This is simply a case of a party attempting to bring a tort claim to recover monies that it spent as a result of a contractual obligation to a third party. But negligence claims cannot proceed based on a party’s desire to relieve itself from a bad bargain.

Tank Tech, Inc., supra.

 

 

Likewise, regarding the common law indemnification claim, “actions for indemnity have been restricted to situations involving either a duty, an express contract, or the existence of active and passive negligence.”  Tank Tech, Inc., supra, quoting Hiller Grp., Inc. v. Redwing Carriers, Inc., 779 So.2d 602, 603 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001).  Since the Second District already agreed there was no special relationship between Company “A” and Company “B” and, thus, no duty owed, the common law indemnification claim failed for the same reasons as the negligence claim.

 

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 INDEMNIFICATION LIMITATION IN SECTION 725.06 DOES NOT APPLY TO UTILITY / HORIZONTAL-TYPE PROJECTS

shutterstock_486800107One of the most important provisions in construction contracts is the indemnification provision.  Appreciating contractual indemnification obligations are critical and certainly should not be overlooked.  Ever!

 

Florida Statute s. 725.06 (written about here and here) contains a limitation on contractual indemnification provisions for personal injury or property damage in construction contracts.   There should always be an indemnification provision in a construction contract that addresses property damage or personal injury.  Always!

 

Section 725.06 pertains to agreements in connection with “any construction, alteration, repair, or demolition of a building, structure, appurtenance, or appliance, including moving and excavating associated therewith…” If the contract requires the indemnitor (party giving the indemnification) to indemnify the indemnitee (party receiving the indemnification) for the indemnitee’s own negligence, the indemnification provision is unenforceable unless it contains a “monetary limitation on the extent of the indemnification that bears a reasonable commercial relationship to the contract and is part of the project specifications or bid documents, if any.”   It is important to read the statute when preparing and dealing with a contractual indemnification provision.

 

A common defense from an indemnitor in a case dealing with contractual indemnification on a construction project is that the provision is unenforceable because it does not comport with s. 725.06.  

 

In a recent case, Blok Builders, LLC v. Katryniok, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D253b (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), the indemnitor argued the indemnification provision was not enforceable. Here, a utility company hired a contractor to improve its telecommunications services. Part of the work required the contractor to provide access to preexisting underground telecommunication lines located in neighborhood easements.  The contractor hired a subcontractor to perform the required excavation to access the preexisting underground lines.   This work resulted in a personal injury action where the injured person sued the contractor, subcontractor, and utility company.

 

The contractor’s subcontract with the subcontractor required the subcontractor to indemnify the contractor and its directors, officers, employees, and agents, from loss caused wholly or partially by the subcontractor.  Thus, the indemnification provision required the subcontractor to indemnify the contractor for losses that were caused partially by the contractor’s own negligence (otherwise, the indemnification provision would be limited to losses solely attributable to the subcontractor). 

 

The contractor and utility owner both claimed that the subcontractor was responsible for contractually indemnifying them for all losses including attorney’s fees.  The subcontractor argued that the indemnification provision should be deemed unenforceable because it did not contain a monetary limitation on the extent of the indemnification. 

 

Indemnification as to the Contractor

 

The appellate court affirmed the trial court that the indemnification provision as to the contractor was enforceable because the statute (s. 725.06) did not apply.  What?  That is right, the statute did not apply because the statute does not apply to utility contracts.  What?  That is right, the appellate court held that the statute applies to “any construction, alteration, repair, or demolition of a building, structure, appurtenance, or appliance” so if the excavation is not connected to a building, structure, appurtenance, or appliance, it does not apply.  Since the project dealt with underground utility lines, s. 725.06 did not apply so the contract did not need to contain a monetary limitation on the indemnification provision.

 

Of course, in my opinion, it is hard to truly reconcile the distinction between a vertical project of a building or structure and a horizontal project, such as the project at-issue.  In other words, why would a limitation on indemnification provisions apply to one type of project but not the other?  I do not know the answer to this other than to say the court reading s. 725.06 noticed that it mentions nothing about applying to horizontal type projects that do not involve a building or structure.

 

Indemnification of Utility Owner

 

The appellate court however reversed the trial court as to the application of the indemnification provision extending to the owner.  The indemnification provision mentioned nothing about the utility owner.   That is true.  The contractor argued that because the prime contract was incorporated into the subcontract, the subcontractor’s duty to indemnify the utility owner arose from the prime contract.  But, the prime contract required the contractor to indemnify the utility owner; it mentioned nothing about subcontractors being required to indemnify the owner.

 

Interestingly, if this contract were governed by s. 725.06, this perhaps would be an issue because s. 725.06 provides that contractors may not require the indemnitor to indemnify the indemnitee for damage to persons or property caused in whole or in part by any person other than the (a) indemnitor, (b) the indemnitor’s contractors, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, materialmen, agents, or their employees, or (c) the indemnitee’s officers, directors, agents, or employees.   Thus, the indemnification provision would not permissibly authorize the subcontractor to indemnify the owner for the owner’s own negligence. 

 

Ultimately, what this means is that the owner can pursue contractual indemnity from the contractor based on the indemnification provision in the prime contract.  The contractor would owe this indemnification (since any negligence attributable to the subcontractor would be attributable to the contractor that hired the subcontractor). This would get resolved (or play out at trial) and the contractor, based on this loss, would sue the subcontractor for indemnification for the loss connected with the subcontractor’s negligence.

 

Please read this article for an update / follow-up on this issue and this case.

 

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.

FLOWING DOWN LIABILITY IN CONSTRUCTION DEFECT LAWSUITS

unknownIn construction defect lawsuits, third-party (or fourth-party) claims are routine to flow-down liability downstream.  Right, a general contractor sued by an owner will want to flow-down its liability to the subcontractors.  And, subcontractors will want to flow down their liability to sub-subcontractors and suppliers.   Common, and appropriate, flow-down claims are indemnification and contribution claims

 

In an appellate opinion with little factual discussion, Gozzo Development, Inc. v. Esker, 2016 WL 2908442 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of subcontractors dismissing the contractor’s indemnification and contribution claims.  The owner sued the contractor for a violation of building code (and corresponding defects and damage) and the contractor, in turn, sued subcontractors for indemnification and contribution.  The contractor was seeking indemnity for the statutory building code violations as well as contractual breaches that caused the construction defects and damage. 

 

On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the trial court’s summary judgment as to the indemnification claim, but affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the contribution claim (as Florida abolished joint and several liability in negligence-based actions):

 

Further, as appellant [contractor] sought indemnity for violations of both statutory and non-statutory building standards, it was error to grant summary judgment on the indemnity claim under a provision that applies only to statutory liability. The statutory building code does not preclude liability for violating a contractual duty to adhere to local building standards.

However, we affirm the trial court’s summary judgment on the contribution claim, as appellant’s right to contribution had not arisen by the effective date of the revised statute barring joint and several liability.

Gozzo Development, 2016 WL at *1. 

  

It is important to understand the manner in which liability is flowed downstream (passed-through) in construction defect lawsuits.  It is generally this reason why construction defect lawsuits contain many parties, from the general contractor hired by the owner to the subcontractors, sub-subcontractors, and suppliers implicated by the defective work.   These articles on indemnification (common law and contractual) and contribution explain these very important flow-down claims in more detail. 

 

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.

 

CONTRACTUAL INDEMNIFICATION LIMITATION ON FLORIDA PUBLIC PROJECTS

imagesConstruction contract indemnification provisions are governed under Florida Statute s. 725.06.  This is a very important statute to know if you are drafting indemnification provisions for any type of construction contract.  (There is also Florida Statute s. 725.08 that discusses indemnification provisions applicable to design professionals that is also worth knowing.) 

 

Contained within s. 725.06, is a limitation on indemnification provisions applicable to public construction projects:

 

(2) A construction contract for a public agency or in connection with a public agency’s project may require a party to that contract to indemnify and hold harmless the other party to the contract, their officers and employees, from liabilities, damages, losses and costs, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorney’s fees, to the extent caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongful misconduct of the indemnifying party and persons employed or utilized by the indemnifying party in the performance of the construction contract.

(3) Except as specifically provided in subsection (2), a construction contract for a public agency or in connection with a public agency’s project may not require one party to indemnify, defend, or hold harmless the other party, its employees, officers, directors, or agents from any liability, damage, loss, claim, action, or proceeding, and any such contract provision is void as against public policy of this state.

 

The key to this contractual indemnification limitation on public projects is the bolded language “to the extent caused by….”  This language is comparative fault language meaning the indemnitor (party giving indemnification) is only responsible for indemnifying the indemnitee (party receiving the indemnification) “to the extent caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongful misconduct” of the indemnitee.  The language “to the extent caused by” is more limiting than an intermediate or broad form of indemnification provision that expands the scope of the indemnitor’s obligation to indemnify the indemnitee (for example, for negligence acts caused by the indemnitee).   Stated differently, this limitation would certainly seem to preclude the indemnitor from indemnifying the indemnitee for the indemnitee’s negligence.

 

But, there is not yet a Florida case that truly discusses the application of this contractual indemnification limitation on public projects. 

 

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.

 

 

INDEMNIFICATION PROVISIONS AND “IN WHOLE OR IN PART” LANGUAGE

imagesIf you negotiate or prepare construction contracts, then you should be familiar with Florida Statute s. 725.06.  This statute contains requirements for indemnification provisions in construction contracts and is a must-know and must-read for all construction participants responsible for negotiating and preparing construction contracts, especially those that contain indemnification provisions for bodily injury and property damage (and all such contracts do and should contain such indemnification language!).   For more on Florida Statute s. 725.06, please check out these articles:

 

  1. Make Sure Indemnification Provisions Clearly Reflect the Required Scope of the Indemnification;
  2. The Scope of a Release in a Settlement and Contractual Indemnification; and
  3. Buttoning-Up Contractual Indemnification Language.

 

Although not a construction case, the opinion in ATC Logistics Corporation v. Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D816b (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), demonstrates the importance of drafting clear indemnification language.    This case contained the following indemnification provision:

 

(a) ATC [Carrier] shall indemnify and hold harmless SET from and against any and all losses, liabilities, damages, costs, fines, expenses, deficiencies, taxes and reasonable fees and expenses of counsel and agents, including any costs incurred in enforcing this Agreement, that SET may sustain, suffer or incur arising from (i) Carrier’s failure or alleged failure to comply, in whole or in part, with any of its obligations hereunder; (ii) any loss of or damage to a Vehicle while loaded onto, transported on or unloaded from a Car Carrier; (iii) any damage to any property of SET caused by the maintenance or operation of any Car Carrier or the loading or unloading of any Car Carrier; (iv) any claims by any third person with respect to death, injury or property damage caused by the maintenance or operation of any Car Carrier or the loading, transportation or unloading of Vehicles on or from a Car Carrier and (v) any claims resulting from or arising out of injury or death of any employee, agent of contractor of Carrier including claims alleging that SET failed to provide a safe place to work.

 

The indemnity obligation was broken into five (i – v) sections. 

 

In this case, SET sued ATC (the named Carrier in the indemnification provision) to recover amounts it paid out in a settlement.  SET argued that ATC was responsible for indemnifying it for its (SET’s own) negligence based on the language in section (i) that required ATC to indemnify SET for “Carrier’s failure or alleged failure to comply, in whole or in part, with any of its obligations hereunder.”

 

The issue, however, was that SET was really seeking indemnification relating to section (iv) which did NOT contain any “in whole or in part” language.  In other words, section (iv) did not require ATC to indemnify SET for its actions whether caused “in whole or in part” by ATC’s negligence.  Had section (iv) contained this “in whole or in part” language, then ATC would have likely been required to fully indemnify SET for its actions even if the damages were partially caused by the negligence of SET.  While SET wanted the “in whole or in part” language included in section (i) to be read into the language in section (iv), this was NOT how this clause was written and the court is not there to rewrite parties’ contracts.  Accordingly, the First District held that ATC was not required to indemnify SET for SET’s negligence.

 

Importantly, if the indemnification provision pertained to a construction contract and required the indemnitee (e.g., subcontractor) to indemnify the indemnitor (e.g., contractor), it would need to include certain language for it to be enforceable under s. 725.06Such indemnification provisions that require the indemnitee to indemnify the indemnitor for “liability for damages to persons or property caused in whole or in part by any act, omission, or default of the indemnitee arising from the contract or its performance, shall be void and unenforceable unless the contract contains a monetary limitation on the extent of the indemnification that bears a reasonable commercial relationship to the contract and is part of the project specifications or bid documents, if any.” Fla. Stat. s. 725.06.   

 

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.

 

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS AND REPOSE FOR INDEMNIFICATION CLAIMS (STEMMING FROM CONSTRUCTION DEFECT)

images-1I have written articles regarding the statute of limitations and statute of repose relating to construction disputes governed under Florida Statute s. 95.11(3)(c):

 

Within Four Years.  An action founded on the design, planning, or construction of an improvement to real property, with the time running from the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest; except that, when the action involves a latent defect, the time runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence. In any event, the action must be commenced within 10 years after the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer, whichever date is latest.

 

In the construction defect context, a claimant has four years to sue from the date they knew or reasonably should have known with the exercise of due diligence the defect (e.g, the latent defect).  This is the statute of limitations.  Nonetheless, a claimant must sue no matter what on a latent defect within ten years from the project’s completion (see statute above).  This is the statute of reposeA construction defect lawsuit cannot be initiated after the expiration of the statute of repose.

 

Let’s assume the following dates:

 

            Project completion (start of limitations)                                          2005

            First discovery of water intrusion                                                   2008

            General contractor completes repairs                                            2011

            General contractor sues subcontractor for indemnification            2013

 

In this scenario, the subcontractor may argue that the general contractor’s statute of limitations to sue the subcontractor for the defect and damage is barred by the statute of limitations since the first discovery of water intrusion was in 2008 and the general contractor waited to sue until 2013 (five years later).

 

But, wait…the general contractor is going to sue the subcontractor for indemnification (preferably, contractual indemnification based on the terms of the subcontract). In this scenario, the general contractor is suing after it completed repairs and established its liability to the owner for repairing the defects and damage. 

 

The statute of limitations for an action seeking indemnity does not being running until the litigation against the third-party plaintiff [general contractor] has ended or the liability [against the third-party plaintiff], if any, has been settled or discharged by payment.” Castle Constr. Co. v. Huttig Sash & Door Co., 425 So.2d 573, 575 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982) (finding general contractor’s indemnity claim against subcontractor did not accrue until the owner’s litigation against the general contractor ended or the general contractor’s liability determined).  Stated differently, the statute of limitations for the general contractor’s indemnification claim did not begin to start running until 2011 when its liability to the owner for the defects was discharged / settled.

 

Now, let’s assume the following dates:

 

     Project completion (start of limitations)                                          2005

            First discovery of water intrusion                                                   2008

            General contractor completes repairs                                            2013

            General contractor sues subcontractor for indemnification            2016

 

In this instance, the subcontractor may argue that the statute of repose expired because the general contractor waited until 2016 or eleven years after the statute of limitations started to accrue in 2005.  Guess what?  The subcontractor would be right.  See Dep’t of Transp. V. Echeverri, 736 So.2d 791 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999) (explaining that the statute of repose for construction defect claims still applies to claims for indemnity).  Stated differently, even though the general contractor sued the subcontractor for indemnification within three years of establishing its liability, it was still bound by the ten year statute of repose that started accruing in 2005, meaning such lawsuits were barred after 2015.

 

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.

 

CONTRACTUAL LIABILITY EXCLUSION IN CGL POLICIES AND “INSURED CONTRACT” EXCEPTION

Picture1Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies contain a CONTRACTUAL LIABILITY EXCLUSION (see adjacent picture). The contractual liability exclusion operates to BAR personal injury and property damage claims “which the insured is obligated to pay by reason of the assumption of liability in a contract or agreement.”  Think indemnification claims which are assumption of liability claims and common in construction. 

 

But, and this is an important but, there are two exceptions to this exclusion.

 

First, the contractual liability exclusion does not apply to liability for damages “that the insured would have in the absence of the contract or agreement.”   Think tort claims.

 

Second, the contractual liability exclusion does not apply to liability for damages “assumed in a contract or agreement that is an ‘insured contract’.”  The key to this exception is the definition of an “insured contract.” 

 

Applicable to construction, a key definition of an “insured contract” is “that part of any contract…pertaining to your business…under which you assume the tort liability of another party to pay for bodily injury or property damage to a third person or organization.”  This portion of the “insured contract” definition should ideally bring contractual indemnification claims back into play so that contractual indemnification claims are not barred by the contractual liability exclusion.

 

Be careful, though.  There are endorsements to CGL policies that have modified the definition of “insured contract” to either remove the aforementioned definition all together, meaning contractual indemnification claims would be excluded.  This is a bad endorsement to the definition of “insured contract” if you are involved in construction.

 

Or, this key definition of “insured contract” has been narrowed to include the following underlined language “that part of any contract…pertaining to your business…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 those acting on your behalf.”  This means that if you contractually agree to indemnify another for that person’s negligence, this would not meet the definition of “insured contract” since you are agreeing to indemnify another for negligence not caused in whole or in part by you. 

 

For example, the opinion in Mid-Continent Casualty Co. v. Royal Crane, LLC, 2015 WL 3609062 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), discusses this narrowed definition of “insured contract” with the underlined language above.  In this case, a subcontractor leased a crane and crane operator from a rental company.  The rental agreement between the subcontractor and rental company contained the following contractual indemnification language:

 

“Lessee [subcontractor] agrees to indemnify, defend and hold harmless Lessor [rental company], its employees, operators and agents from any and all claims for damage to property, damage to the work or bodily injury (including death) resulting from the use, operation, or possession of the crane and operator whether or not it be claimed or found that such damage or injury resulted in whole or in part from Lessor’s negligence, from a defective condition of the crane or operator or from any act, omission or default of Lessor.”

 

 

In other words, the subcontractor was agreeing to indemnify the rental company for the rental company’s negligence.  This is known as a broad form indemnification provision.

 

During construction, a worker was hurt when a truss fell from the crane.  The worker sued the rental company and the crane operator for negligence.  The rental company and operator third-partied in the subcontractor based on the contractual indemnification provision in the rental agreement. However, the subcontractor’s CGL insurer denied coverage (and, thus, a defense in the lawsuit) based on the contractual liability exclusion.

 

As a consequence of the CGL insurer’s immediate denial of coverage, the subcontractor entered into a Coblentz settlement agreement with the rental company that allowed the rental company to sue the subcontractor’s CGL’s insurer for its wrongful refusal to deny the subcontractor a defense and for coverage under the subcontractor’s policy.  

 

Coblentz Settlement Agreement

 

In a nutshell, a Coblentz settlement agreement is an agreement between an insured and a third-party claimant where the insurer denied coverage and, thus, the duty to defend its insured in an underlying lawsuit.  The insured agrees to give the claimant a consent judgment to resolve the lawsuit and an assignment of its rights under its CGL policy to the claimant in exchange for the claimant not enforcing the consent judgment against the insured.  This allows the claimant to now sue the insured’s CGL insurer directly to enforce the consent judgment.  In doing so, the claimant must still prove: (a) the insurer wrongly refused to defend its insured, (b) there is coverage under the policy, and (3) the negotiated consent judgment was made in good faith and is reasonable. But, the consent judgment prevents the insurer from trying to argue the liability of the insured since that could have been argued in the underlying lawsuit that the insurer refused to defend its insured in.  See Royal Crane, supra, at *4-5. (For more information on Coblentz settlement agreements, check out this presentation that discusses this in detail.)

 

“Insured Contract”

 

But, the heart of the case really pertained to the contractual liability exclusion and the definition of an “insured contract” as narrowed by endorsement. With respect to the definition of “insured contract” in the policy (see above language), the Fourth District Court of Appeals importantly held:

 

“[A]n indemnity agreement can be an ‘insured contract’ under the policy where the injury is caused by the indemnitee’s negligence, so long as the named insured ‘caused’ some part of the injuries or damages or is otherwise vicariously liable.”

Royal Crane, supra, at *7. 

 

 

In other words, taking the above fact pattern, the indemnity agreement could constitute an “insured contract” to be excepted from the contractual liability exclusion if the worker’s injury was caused by the rental company’s (indemnitee) negligence, so long as the subcontractor (named insured in the CGL policy) caused some part of the injuries or was otherwise vicariously liable to the rental company for the injuries.

 

 Unfortunately for the rental company, even under this favorable definition of an “insured contract”, the rental company’s third-party complaint against the subcontractor still did not trigger a duty of subcontractor’s CGL insurer to defend and cover the subcontractor:

 

Hunter Crane’s [indemnitee-rental company] third party complaint did not assert a legal theory under which Cloutier [insured-subcontractor] can be said to have ‘caused’ the injury in whole or in part.  No allegation described how Cloutier contributed to causing the accident.  No allegation attempted to invoke the borrowed servant doctrine, which dictates that ‘one who borrows and exercises control over the servant or worker of another in effect assumes all liability for the activities of the borrowed servant or worker.’ Nor did the third party complaint cast Cloutier as the employer of an independent contractor who actively participated in or interfered with the job to the extent that it directly influenced the manner in which the work was performed.”

Royal Crane, supra, at *7 (internal quotations omitted).

 

 

For this reason, the Fourth District sided with the CGL insurer finding that the contractual liability exclusion barred coverage to the subcontractor such that the CGL insurer had no duty to defend or cover the subcontractor in the underlying litigation.  This also meant that the rental company’s Coblentz settlement agreement provided it no value because it already agreed to give up rights to collect against the subcontractor and it could no longer collect against the subcontractor’s CGL insurer.  What this case does exemplify, however, is the importance of pleading allegations to maximize insurance coverage as well as a more relaxed definition of an “insured contract”  to hopefully prevent the application of the contractual liability 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.

 

SUING FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ON A CONTRACT CLAIM; EQUITABLE SUBROGATION CLAIM BY LIABILITY INSURER AGAINST GOVERNMENT NOT ALLOWED

imagesEquitable subrogation is a doctrine that liability insurers rely on when paying a claim on behalf of an insured.  Under this doctrine, the insurer equitably subrogates—steps in the shoes—to the rights of the insured and sues as an equitable subrogee of the insured in order to seek reimbursement for the claim it paid.

 

What if the liability insurer tried to pursue an equitable subrogation claim against the federal government?  In other words, what if the insurer paid out insurance proceeds on behalf of its insured-prime contractor and then tried to recoup the insurance proceeds from the federal government as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor?  The United States Court of Federal Claims in Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters v. U.S., 2014 WL 6491835 (Fed.Cl. 2014) explained that a liability insurer CANNOT sue the federal government as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor in order to recoup insurance proceeds paid out on a claim.

 

In this case, the government hired a prime contractor to abate asbestos at a post office.  The prime contractor was having difficulty obtaining CGL liability insurance to specifically cover asbestos removal for a reasonable premium and the government, through the contracting officer, agreed to execute an addendum to the prime contract that required the government to save harmless and indemnify the contractor from personal injury claims attributable to the asbestos removal work.

 

More than ten years later, a former government employee sued the prime contractor claiming he contracted cancer from his exposure to asbestos while it was being removed and abated at the project.  The prime contractor demanded that the government defend and indemnify it for this claim; however, the government refused.  The prime contractor then tendered the claim to its CGL liability insurer and its insurer settled the claim.  After the settlement, the prime contractor once again demanded that the government reimburse it by honoring the indemnification language in the addendum; again, the government refused.

 

The prime contractor’s liability insurer then filed suit against the federal government as the equitable subrogee of the prime contractor in order to recoup the insurance proceeds it paid to the former government employee.  The thrust of the claim was that the government breached the indemnification provision.  The government moved to dismiss the lawsuit contending that the Court of Federal Claims does not have subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the lawsuit because the liability insurer is not in privity with the government and, therefore, cannot sue the government.  The Court of Federal Claims agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  Why? Because a plaintiff suing the federal government on a contract claim must be in privity of contract with the federal government with limited exceptions to this rule:

 

The Federal Circuit has recognized limited exceptions to the requirement that parties seeking relief for breach of contract against the government under the Tucker Act must be in privity of contract with the United States. These limited exceptions include (1) actions against the United States by an intended third-party beneficiary; (2) pass-through suits by a subcontractor where the prime contractor is liable to the subcontractor for the subcontractor’s damages; and (3) actions by a Miller Act surety for funds that the government improperly disbursed to a prime contractor [after the surety financed completion of a defaulted subcontractor]. As the court of appeals has observed, the common thread that unites these exceptions is that the party standing outside of privity by contractual obligation stands in the shoes of a party within privity.

Fidelity and Guaranty Insurance Underwriters, supra(internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

Since none of the limited exceptions applied to allow a liability insurer to sue the government as an equitable subrogee of its insured-prime contractor, the Court of Federal Claims lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

 

This ruling does not prevent the prime contractor from suing the government directly for breaching the indemnification provision; it simply prevents the liability insurer from suing as an equitable subrogee of the prime contractor. Even though the insurer paid the claim, perhaps it can enter into an agreement with the prime contractor whereby the prime contractor sues the government directly for breach of contract.

 

 

The case demonstrates the limited exceptions available to a claimant on a construction project that wants to pursue a claim directly against the government when the claimant is not the prime contractor hired by the government.  While prime contractors can sue the government for breach of contract, subcontractors, in particular, that want to pursue a claim against the government can only do so as a pass-through claim, meaning they are suing in the name of the prime contractor and will require the cooperation of the prime contractor.

 

Also, as an aside, the indemnification provision from the government and the prime contractor required the government to save harmless and indemnify the prime contractor.  I always like to include the word “defend” in an indemnification provision so it is crystal clear that the indemnitor’s indemnification obligations extend to its contractual obligation to defend the indemnitees for any claim.

 

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.