Oftentimes, when it comes to payment and performance bonds (in particular), the bond forms are drafted by the obligee. For example, an owner (as the obligee) may draft the bond forms that it wants its general contractor’s surety to execute. And, a general contractor (as the obligee) may draft the bond forms that it wants its subcontractors’ sureties to execute. As an obligee, it is always beneficial to draft the bond form (particularly the performance bond) that you want the surety to execute. The bond is to benefit you—the obligee—so having a hand in creating conditions to trigger the application of the bond is important, specifically when it comes to triggering a performance bond upon the bond-principal’s default.
What if the surety executes a bond form prepared by the obligee and there is an ambiguity in the bond? Should the ambiguity be interpreted against the obligee as the drafter of the bond?
This issue was addressed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in The School Bd. Of Broward County v. Great American Ins. Co., 807 So.2d 750 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002) where the School Board owner prepared the performance bond form. The surety argued there was an ambiguity with the bond form and wanted the ambiguity to be interpreted against the School Board as the drafter of the bond. The court rejected this argument explaining:
Florida’s policy is to construe any ambiguity in a bond in favor of granting the broadest possible coverage to those intended to be benefitted by protection of the bond [e.g., the obligee]. This policy recognizes that the purpose of a bond is to protect a party to a contract; the burden is on the surety, who is in the business, to include the appropriate language in its bonds if it seeks to narrow its obligations after default.
The School Board of Broward County, 807 So.2d at 752 (internal citations and quotations omitted).
To reiterate, it is always beneficial as the obligee to prepare the bond forms (particularly the performance bond) that you want the surety to execute since the bond is designed to benefit you. Work with counsel to ensure the bond form provides you the broadest or best coverage based on the anticipated risks.
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