Additional 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.
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