GENERAL CONTRACTORS: CONSIDER IMPORTANCE OF “PRIMARY AND NONCONTRIBUTORY” LANGUAGE

UnknownIn prior articles, I reinforced the importance of general contractors including “primary and noncontributory” language in subcontracts and requiring the subcontractor to provide an analogous “primary and noncontributory” endorsement.   As a general contractor this is important, particularly since you are going to require the subcontractor to (i) indemnify you for claims relating to personal injury, property damage, or death, and (ii) identify you as an additional insured under its commercial general liability (CGL) policy for claims arising out of the subcontractor’s scope of work.   The “primary and noncontributory” language in your subcontracts allows you to maximize the value of your additional insured status.  

 

A recent opinion explains why I reinforced the importance of this language.

 

The case of Zurich American Insurance Co. v. Amerisure Ins. Co., 2017 WL 366232 (S.D. Fla. 2017) involved an underlying construction defect lawsuit where a condominium association sued a general contractor.    The general contractor hired subcontractors and required them to identify the general contractor as an additional insured.   This is all routine, right?  A few of the subcontractors had CGL policies issued from the same insurer (Amerisure).  They contained the same additional insured endorsement that included the following “other insurance” clause:

 

Any coverage provided in this endorsement is excess over any other valid and collectible insurance available to the additional insured whether primary, excess, contingent, or on any other basis unless the written contract, agreement, or certificate of insurance requires that this insurance be primary, in which case this insurance will be primary without contribution from such other insurance available to the additional insured.

 

When the general contractor was sued it, as it should, tendered the defense of the lawsuit to the responsible subcontractors as an additional insured under their policies demanding both a defense and indemnification from the association’s claims.  The insurer, however, refused to defend the general contractor.  The general contractor’s insurer (Zurich) defended the general contractor in the action. 

 

Thereafter, the general contractor’s CGL insurer sued the subcontractors’ CGL insurer.  (The general contractor had also assigned its additional insured rights under the policies to its CGL insurer.)  The general contractor’s CGL insurer was seeking reimbursement for the attorney’s fees and costs expended in the defense of the general contractor in the underlying construction defect lawsuit.  The subcontractors’ CGL insurer moved to dismiss the claims based on the clause above—that the subcontractors’ CGL insurance operated as excess insurance over the general contractor’s CGL insurance.  In other words, the subcontractors’ CGL insurance was not primary and noncontributory.  There was no allegation that the subcontract included language requiring the subcontractor’s CGL insurer to be primary and noncontributory. 

 

The first reason this is an important point is because “when an insurance policy defines its coverage as secondary or “excess” to a primary policy, the excess insurer has no duty to defend the insured—so long as the primary policy provides for a defense and its coverage has not been exhausted.”  Zurich American Ins. Co., supra, at *4.    If the subcontractors’ CGL policy is excess, then than their CGL insurer does not have a duty to defend if the primary policy is not exhausted.   This means they have no duty to defend the additional insured – not very helpful to a general contractor tendering the defense of the claim to responsible subcontractors. 

 

The second reason this is an important point is because of what is known between liability insurers as the anti-contribution rule:

 

Florida courts have consistently held that, once the duty to defend is activated, every subject insurer assumes it on a personal and indivisible basis. That means that when an insured tenders a claim to multiple insurance providers, the entity that actually engages in the defense and incurs the fees and costs associated with it cannot subsequently seek contribution or equitable subrogation from the fellow insurer who “lagg[ed] behind.”

Zurich American Ins., Co., supra, at *5 (internal citations omitted).

 

Since the general contractor’s CGL insurer bore the costs of the general contractor’s defense in the construction defect lawsuit, it cannot now divvy up the defense fees and costs to other insurers that may have had a similar obligation unless an exception to this rule applies (see below).

 

The third reason this is an important point is because there is an exception to this anti-contribution rule:

 

A “responsive” insurer who complied with its insured’s tender for defense can extract reimbursement from the “nonresponsive” insurer when the insured had separately contracted with another entity, itself an insured of the nonresponsive carrier, to indemnify the first insured. The logic of the exception is that the insured parties’ express decision to “shift[ ] exposure” from one to the other is imputed to the insurer relationship and overcomes the general anti-contribution principle.

Zurich American Ins., Co., supra, at *8 (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.

SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO CONSIDER THE COBLENTZ AGREEMENT

 

imagesSince insurance, particularly liability insurance, is such an important component when it comes a construction project, understanding certain nuances such as a Coblentz Agreement (a what kind of agreement agreement?!?—keep reading) becomes helpful.  

 

If there is a construction defect claim / lawsuit, the implicated parties (e.g., contractor, design professional, subcontractor, sub-consultants) are going to tender the claim / lawsuit to their respective liability insurer.  This is what they should be doing – notifying the insurer so that the insurer can defend them from the claim / lawsuit and indemnify them from covered damages associated with the claim / lawsuit.  

 

And, if a contractor is an additional insured under an implicated subcontractor’s liability policy, it is going to demand that the insurer defend it (or share in the defense costs with other implicated subcontractors) and indemnify it based on the negligence of the primary insured-subcontractor.

 

This is all par for the course in a construction defect lawsuit–really, any construction defect lawsuit.

 

But, there may come a point where a liability insurer denies coverage meaning they are declining to defend their insured in connection with the claim / lawsuit.    In this situation, the claimant may consider entering into a Coblentz agreement with the insured.  This was the topic in a recent non-construction case in In Re: The Estate of Jorge Luis Arroyo, Jr. v. Infinity Indemnity Insurance Co., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D192a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), when a personal injury negligence lawsuit was brought against an Estate as the result of a deadly car accident.  The Estate tendered the defense of the negligence lawsuit to the decedent’s insurer, but the insurer declined to defend the Estate of the insured.  The Estate and the personal injury claimant then entered into a Coblentz agreement where the Estate (1) agreed to a consent judgment entered against it, (2) assigned its rights under its liability policy to the claimant, and (3) the claimant agreed not to pursue the consent judgment against the insured.  The Coblentz agreement and consent judgment gave the claimant a path to sue the insured’s liability insurer based on the liability against the insured as set forth in the consent judgment.  (The consent judgment establishes the liability of the insured.)

 

In order to enforce a consent judgment entered pursuant to a Coblentz agreement, the assignee [claimant] must bring an action against the insurer and prove: (1) insurance coverage, (2) the insurance company wrongfully refused to defend its insured, and (3) the settlement was reasonable and made in good faith.”  In Re: The Estate of Jorge Luis Arroyo, Jr. supra.

 

[W]hen an insurer refuses to defend its insured from a lawsuit, and the insured later settles the suit by entering into a Coblentz agreement, the insurer is precluded from relitigating the issue of its insured’s liability in subsequent proceedings.”  In Re: The Estate of Jorge Luis Arroyo, Jr. supra.   Stated differently, the insurer is precluded from later raising defenses on behalf of its insured that it could have previously raised had it simply defended its insured. 

 

In this case, the insurer ultimately tried to intervene in an underlying lawsuit once it was sued per the Coblentz agreement.  Although the trial court permitted this intervention, the appellate court reversed because the insurer couldn’t relitigate issues it could have raised had it not declined to defend its insured– it was this declination that gave rise to the Coblentz agreement in the first place.   The consent judgment established the insured’s liability to the claimant; thus, the issues to determine were (1) was there coverage, (2) did the insurer wrongfully refuse to defend the insured; and (3) was the settlement reasonable.  As this case shows, sometimes a claimant needs to consider entering into a Coblentz Agreement to pursue recourse against an insurance 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.

ADDITIONAL INSURED OBLIGATIONS AND THE UNDERLYING LAWSUIT

images-1As a general contractor, you understand the importance of being named an additional insured under your subcontractors’ commercial general liability (CGL) policies.   Not only do you want your subcontract to express that a subcontractor’s CGL policy is primary and noncontributory to your policy, but you want it to express that the subcontractor must identify you as an additional insured for ongoing and completed operations.  Even with this language, you want the subcontractor to provide you with their additional insured endorsement and, preferably, a primary and noncontributory endorsement.    These additional insured obligations are important to any general contractor that has been sued in a construction defect / property damage lawsuit.

 

In the recent decision in Core Construction Services Southeast, Inc. v. Crum & Forster Ins. Co., 2016 WL 5403578 (11th Cir. 2016), a general contractor built a residential development.  The general contractor required its roofing subcontractor to identify it as an additional insured under the roofer’s CGL policy.   The general contractor was sued with the lawsuit asserting that the roofs were installed incorrectly.  The general contractor tendered the defense of the claim to the roofer’s CGL insurer and the insurer refused to provide the defense because there was no “property damage” within the definition of the CGL policy (“physical injury to tangible property…”).    The general contractor then filed a lawsuit against the subcontractor’s insurer arguing that the insurer was obligated to defend and indemnify it since the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s CGL policy.  The trial court, and as affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, held that the insurer owed no duty to defend or indemnity the general contractor because there was NO asserted property damage within the meaning of the policyIf there was no property damage then there was no obligation for the roofing subcontractor’s insurer to defend the general contractor as an additional insured under the subcontractor’s CGL policy. 

 

The underlying lawsuit only claimed that the roofs had been damaged but did NOT claim that the defective roofs had caused damage to other property (other components of the building).  The omission of this assertion was important because the complaint was not pled to trigger insurance duties, such as additional insured obligations, since the cost to repair or replace the damaged roof would not be covered by the subcontractor’s CGL insurer.  Rather, costs to replace or repair damage caused by the subcontractor’s defective roofing installation would be covered; however, such damage was not pled in the underlying complaint.   Remember, the insurer’s duty to defend is only triggered based on allegations in the underlying complaint so without such allegations, there is no duty

 

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.

 

REQUESTING LIABILITY INSURANCE INFORMATION FROM RESPONSIBLE PARTIES FOR CONSTRUCTION OR DESIGN DEFECTS (FLA. STAT. s. 627.4137)

images-1If you are an owner and discover construction or design defects, you are going to want consult with a lawyer to make sure you know your rights under Florida Statutes Chapter 558.  This includes sending a written notice of the construction or design defects identifying the defects with sufficient detail to the potentially responsible parties.  Likewise, if you are a contractor and receive this written notice, you are going to want to make sure you forward that letter to potentially responsible parties (subcontractors or suppliers). 

 

Coupled with this written notice of defects letter should be a written request on the parties and their known insurance agents and insurers for their liability insurance information.  Start with culling Certificates of Insurance you have on these parties to obtain (some) of this information as to whom to send the request to.  This request can be in a separate letter or the same letter (as the notice of defects letter) and should reference Florida Statute s. 627.4137 and request the information in the below statutory language:

 

(1) Each insurer which does or may provide liability insurance coverage to pay all or a portion of any claim which might be made shall provide, within 30 days of the written request of the claimant, a statement, under oath, of a corporate officer or the insurer’s claims manager or superintendent setting forth the following information with regard to each known policy of insurance, including excess or umbrella insurance:

(a) The name of the insurer.

(b) The name of each insured.

(c) The limits of the liability coverage.

(d) A statement of any policy or coverage defense which such insurer reasonably believes is available to such insurer at the time of filing such statement.

(e) A copy of the policy.

In addition, the insured, or her or his insurance agent, upon written request of the claimant or the claimant’s attorney, shall disclose the name and coverage of each known insurer to the claimant and shall forward such request for information as required by this subsection to all affected insurers. The insurer shall then supply the information required in this subsection to the claimant within 30 days of receipt of such request.

 

As discussed in prior articles, insurance is an important aspect of construction and design defect disputes. 

 

If you are an owner, you want to understand potential insurance coverage so that you know how to best maximize any claim for insurance coverage against potentially liable parties.  This includes knowing the limits of liability in any commercial general liability (CGL) or professional liability / errors & omissions policy, as applicable, and whether there is any umbrella / excess policy.  This also includes understanding the exclusions in the policies and whether there are endorsements that add or modify exclusions in the policy.

 

If you are a general contractor, you also want to understand potential insurance coverage from subcontractors and other entities you are looking to flow-down an owner’s defect claims (ideally, through contractual indemnification language in your subcontract).  Also, you are going to want to make sure you have additional insured status under these parties’ liability policies so that they contribute to the fees and costs incurred in your defense.  For this reason, you also want to obtain copies of subcontractor insurance polices including all endorsements.  Besides the limits of liability, you want to see the additional insured endorsement in the policy, and any endorsements that add or modify exclusions in the policy. 

 

If you are a subcontractor, if you subcontracted aspects of your scope of work or there is a claim associated with deficient material you furnished, you also want to obtain this insurance information from these potentially liable entities because you are also going to try to flow-down liability (ideally, through contractual indemnification language in your subcontract).

 

And, if you are a manufacturer, if a claim is asserted against you arising out of the installation of that product, you also want to obtain insurance information from any authorized dealer or installer (perhaps through any agreement you have with that dealer or installer that would require this entity to indemnify you and name you as an additional insured).  

 

One of the underlying reasons for s. 627.4137 is so that parties can obtain insurance coverage information and make reasonably informed decisions about settling a matter.  In other words, you don’t want to settle a dispute for policy limits if you have damages that may exceed policy limits and find out the responsible party has additional or excess insurance to cover the excess damages. See, e.g., Schlosser v. Perez, 832 So.2d 179 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (in non-construction case, noncompliance with s. 627.4137 rendered settlement unenforceable). But, this statute does not create a private cause of action by a third-party if an insurer fails to timely provide this information. Any potential recourse the third-party would have, if any, against the insurer would have to be after the third-party obtains a judgment against the underlying insured. Lucente v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 591 So.2d 1126, 1127-28 (4th DCA 1992) (“[T]he statute does not contain an implicit cause of action for a third-party against an insurance company.”);  see also Brannan v. Geico Indemnity Co., 569 Fed.Appx. 724, 728 (11th Cir. 2014)  (“But Brannan fails to point to any legal authority to show that s. 627.4137 creates a first-party private cause of action against an insurer [for failure to comply with the statute.]”).

 

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.

 

 

MAKE SURE ADDITIONAL INSURED COVERAGE IS FOR COMPLETED OPERATIONS


UnknownCommercial general liability (“CGL”) insurance and additional insured coverage play an integral role in construction defect disputes. Specifically, general contractors want to ensure that they are an additional insured under their subcontractors CGL policies. (Subcontractors that engage other subcontractors to perform a portion of their scope likewise want to be an additional insured under their subcontractors’ CGL policies.) However, just being an additional insured is not enough. The key is that a general contractor should be an additional insured for ongoing operations and, importantly, completed operations since construction defects typically arise out of completed operations.

 

The recent Fifth Circuit decision in Carl E. Woodward, L.L.C. v. Acceptance Indemnity Insurance Co., 2014 WL 902575 (5th Cir. 2014), discusses additional insured coverage and the importance of additional insured coverage for completed operations. This case deals with the construction of a condominium in Mississippi. The general contractor hired a concrete subcontractor that performed work from January 2006 to October 2006 with the entire project being completed in August 2007. The general contractor was an additional insured under the concrete subcontractor’s CGL policy. Subsequent to completion, a construction defect dispute arose in arbitration that involved the concrete subcontractor’s scope of work. The concrete issues appeared to be that the subcontractor failed to properly slope concrete floors including balconies preventing water to drain and that it failed to install a step in the balcony slab at the balcony exterior walls and doors damaging exterior walls of condominium units.

 

The general contractor demanded that the concrete subcontractor’s CGL carrier indemnify and defend it in the dispute since it was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s policy (and the CGL carrier was responsible for indemnifying / defending it due to the negligence of the primary insured-concrete subcontractor). The concrete subcontractor’s CGL carrier refused to defend the general contractor because the additional insured endorsement stated that additional insured coverage was “only with respect to liability arising out of your [primary insured subcontractor’s] ongoing operations performed for that insured.” The endorsement also provided a specific exclusion to additional insured coverage–the additional insured coverage did NOT apply to property damage occurring after all work to be performed by or on behalf of the additional insured has been completed. Basically, there was NO additional insured coverage for completed operations.

 

The general contractor and its insurer filed suit against the concrete subcontractor’s CGL carrier. The argument was that the CGL carrier failed to indemnify and contribute to defense costs in connection with the arbitration. After trial, the district judge entered a judgment in favor of the contractor for approximately $1 Million. The Fifth Circuit reversed this judgment because the dispute arose out of completed operations for which there was no additional insured coverage owed to the general contractor.

 

 

images-1A. What does the additional insured coverage “only with respect to liability arising out of your [primary insured subcontractor’s] ongoing operations performed for that insured” mean

 

The Fifth Circuit (relying on Mississippi law) held that under the additional insured language for ongoing operations, liability simply needs to arise out of ongoing operations–liability needs to be causally connected to the the subcontractor’s ongoing operations. But, what exactly does this mean? To determine what this specifically means, the Fifth Circuit examined the case of Noble v. Wellington Assoc., 2013 WL 6067991 (Miss.Ct.App. 2013), that involved post-completion foundation cracks in a house attributable to the site subcontractor’s compaction (before the house was even constructed). In Noble, the court maintained:

 

Noble [additional insured] was only an additional insured for liability caused by Harris’s [site subcontractor] active [ongoing] work on the site and…did not cover property damage manifesting itself after Harris stopped working on the site…. [I]f Harris’s performance caused the damage for which Noble was liable, the cause was Harris’s completed work, not its ongoing operations. ” Carl E. Woodward, supra, at *6.

 

 

The Fifth Circuit further examined the Colorado case, Weitz Co., LLC v. Mid-Century Ins., Co., 181 P.3d 309 (Colo.App. 2007), whereby an owner observed water intrusion damage five months after the subcontractor completed its work. In Weitz, the court maintained:

 

Because the contractor’s [additional insured] liability for the water intrusion damage arose out of the subcontractor’s completed operations–the work was completed five months before the intrusion–rather than its ongoing operations, there was no coverage under the additional-insured endorsement.” Carl E. Woodward, supra, at *7.

 

Additionally, the Fifth Circuit maintained that the additional insured endorsement (factoring in the specific exclusion that excluded property damage occurring after all work has been completed) only provided coverage for the concrete subcontractor’s ongoing (active) operations. In other words, it does not matter when the claim is actually filed as long as the liability does not arise out of completed operations.

 

Typically, and even as the Fifth Circuit noted, liability for construction defects arise out of completed operations. Even if liability arose out of the concrete subcontractor’s scope of work, the liability did not arise out of the subcontractor’s active / ongoing operations, but from the completed construction (when the owner received the completed building-substantial completion). Thus, once all work is completed, the liability and damage will arise from completed operations.

 

B. CGL is not a performance bond

 

CGL insurance is not a performance bond. I repeat, CGL insurance is not a performance bond. The reason for the repetition is because oftentimes arguments are made to essentially convert CGL insurance into a performance bond. The Fifth Circuit explained the difference between these two products that insure different risks:

 

Allowing coverage under this [additional insured] endorsement because of an allegation that the additional insured failed to follow plans and specifications, effectively converts a CGL policy into a performance bond.
***
[A] performance bond is a form of insurance that guarantees the completion of the general contractor’s work on the project. This Circuit has previously noted the significance of the difference between these two forms of insurance [CGL and performance bond]: A CGL policy generally protects the insured when his work damages someone else’s property. The ‘your work’ exclusion [in the policy] prevent a CGL policy from morphing into a performance bond covering an insured’s own work.” Carl E. Woodward, supra, at *7 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

C. Take-aways

 

  • Take a look at the CGL policy and additional insured endorsement. There is a good chance the additional insured endorsement only provides additional insured status for ONGOING OPERATIONS and NOT COMPLETED OPERATIONS! This is absolutely not what a GC wants. It wants additional insured status for both ongoing and completed operations so that it can seek indemnification and defense for issues that arise post-completion.

 

  • Construction defect disputes often arise after substantial completion and after the owner receives the project. It is the owner that asserts the claim against the general contractor and the general contractor seeks indemnification and defense as an additional insured under subcontractors’ policies. If the subcontractor’s CGL policy does not provide for additional insured coverage for completed operations, courts and insurers will likely apply the same logic taken by the Fifth Circuit in this case. This is why obtaining a copy of the endorsement and requiring additional insured status for completed operations is important.

 

  • Even though contracts typically require the subcontractor to include additional insured coverage for completed operations, what the contract requires and what the policy states are oftentimes two different things. So, what is the recourse if a subcontractor’s policy does not comply with this provision? Well, you could include that the subcontractor failing to provide additional insured coverage for completed operations constitutes a material breach of contract. But, even if the contractor learns the right additional insured coverage is not being provided during construction, the chances of it terminating the subcontractor (and delaying the job) and finding a new subcontractor are probably slim to none. So what other recourse is there if this is learned during construction? Perhaps, if learned during construction, the provision can state that the general contractor is entitled to keep the subcontractor’s retainage as a form of liquidated damages based on damages that are not readily ascertainable. The subcontractor probably will not agree to such a provision. And, oftentimes, like this case, the additional insured coverage is not learned until after-the-fact when it is too late. Then what? Well, the contract already has an indemnification provision that would make the subcontractor responsible. The problem is that this provision is not additional insured coverage. Therefore, obtaining copies of subcontractors’ additional insured endorsements on the front end to determine whether there is coverage for completed operations is important.

 

  • CGL insurance is not a performance bond. They are two different insurance-type products with different purposes. Both can play a role in construction defect disputes. It is important to understand and appreciate their differences.

 

  • Finally, parties oftentimes try to navigate complicated CGL issues by themselves. This is a mistake. Parties should retain the services of counsel to assist them to ensure insurance claims are maximized and, if there is a performance bond in place, rights are preserved.

 

For more on additional insured coverage, please see: http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/understanding-your-rights-as-an-additional-insured/

 

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.

 

CONSTRUCTION DEFECT INSURANCE CONSIDERATIONS

images-1Construction defect cases most always involve CGL insurance consideration and claims. And they should. A contractor that received a defect claim from an owner (developer or association) will want to notify their CGL insurer to provide a defense and coverage. The contractor will also want to notify the responsible subcontractors that may be liable to the contractor for the owner’s claims as well as the subcontractors’ CGL carriers. The contractor will do so claiming the responsible subcontractor is responsible to indemnify the contractor for damage arising out of the subcontractor’s work pursuant to their contractual indemnification provision. The contractor will also claim that it is an additional insured under the subcontractor’s CGL policy (as required by the contract and hopefully confirmed by the additional insured endorsement) and the carrier is responsible for contributing to its defense and providing coverage for the negligence caused by the carrier’s insured-subcontractor.

 

The Middle District opinion in Redfish Keys Villas Condominium Association, Inc. v. Amerisure Insurance Co., 2014 WL 92710 (M.D.Fla. 2014), illustrates certain CGL considerations. In this dispute, a general contractor was hired by a developer to construct a condominium. After the condominium was turned over to the association, leaks were discovered. The association claimed the leaks originated from defects. The association sent a construction defects notice to the contractor (pursuant to Florida Statutes Chapter 558) and the contractor failed to respond. The association then filed suit against the contractor. For whatever reason, although the contractor’s counsel filed a notice of appearance in the case, nothing else was done and a final default judgment was entered against the contractor for the damages the association incurred in repairing the leaks.

 

After the judgment was obtained, the contractor’s CGL insurer reached out to the association, apparently not realizing a judgment had been entered against its insured. Upon receiving a copy of the judgment, the insurer denied coverage based on the contractor’s failure to provide notice of the claim to the insurer. However, although not discussed in the opinion, the insurer knew about the contractor’s claim as it was the one that followed-up with the association. Most likely, the association, as it should, notified the contractor’s carrier of the defect claims although it is uncertain whether they notified the carrier of the lawsuit. Or, perhaps, the contractor, as it should, notified its carrier when it received the construction defects notice from the association.

 

The association filed suit against the contractor’s insurer in federal court for a declaratory action and for the insurer’s breach of an intended third party beneficiary contract, that being the CGL insurance policy was for the benefit of third parties such as the association. The insurer moved to dismiss the breach of intended third party beneficiary contract claim. The Middle District denied the insurer’s motion to dismiss. The Middle District found that as a condition precedent to the association suing the insurer, the association needed to comply with Florida Statute s. 627.4136 which essentially requires a third party not insured by a liability insurer to first obtain a settlement or verdict against the insured as a condition precedent to suing the insurer for coverage under the policy. The association complied with this condition precedent as it sued the insured-contractor and obtained a judgment. The Middle District further found that in Florida, “an injured third party may maintain a cause of action against an insurer as an intended third party beneficiary under a liability insurance policy.” Redfish, supra, at *3 citing Shingleton v. Bussey, 223 So.2d 713 (Fla. 1969). In other words, the MIddle District found that as long as the association complied with Florida Statute s. 627.4136 (the condition precedent to a third party suing a liability insurer statute) it could maintain a breach of an intended third party beneficiary contract claim against the CGL insurer.

 

When representing the owner, it is good practice to notify the contractor’s insurer of not only the defect claim but of any potential lawsuit (to avoid any lack of notice coverage defense, especially if the contractor does not have an attorney on board at the time of the lawsuit). Further, when representing the contractor, it is good practice to not only notify the contractor’s CGL insurer, but to notify the responsible subcontractors’ carriers of the same (based on additional insured and indemnity requirements). And, irrespective of a subcontractor’s insurer’s position, it is good practice to keep the insurers apprised of any third party lawsuit the contractor files against the insured-subcontractors (again, to avoid any lack of notice coverage defense). While the Middle District in Redfish only entered a ruling on the insurer’s motion to dismiss at this stage, the insurer’s lack of notice coverage defense will certainly be a defense that the insurer relies on in the dispute.

 

Insurance considerations are a crucial part of construction defect claims. Understanding how to preserve rights and navigate through the process cannot be overstated.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A CERTIFICATE OF INSURANCE IS NOT INSURANCE COVERAGE

4766970-tall-high-rise-urban-office-building-in-sydney-australiaOwners always want to see the certificate of insurance (“COI”) from the general contractor. The general contractor wants to see the COI from its subcontractors. Parties want to see the COI from an entity they are hiring to confirm they have applicable insurance (proof of insurance) and so that the COI identifies them as an additional insured. (Importantly, just because an entity is listed as a “certificate holder” on the COI does not make them an additional insured; it just means they are being provided proof of the insurance identified in the COI. This is not additional insured status!)  Without seeing the actual policy, specifically with respect to a liability policy, it is uncertain (a) what that entity is actually covered for and (b) what entities would be covered as an additional insured under the liability policy.

 

The summary judgment opinion in Bluewater Builders, Inc. v. United Specialty Ins. Co., 2013 WL 5670957 (S.D.Fla. 2013), demonstrates that a COI is not all it is cracked up to be. In this case, a general contractor sued its subcontractor’s CGL carrier for indemnification. The general contractor did so after it obtained a judgment against the subcontractor for water damage arising from the subcontractor’s work at a commercial high-rise officer tower. (Under Florida Statute s. 627.4136, the general contractor could not sue the subcontractor without first obtaining a settlement or verdict against the subcontractor-insured.) The insurer moved for summary judgment because the insured-subcontractor’s policy provided on the Declarations page that the policy covered the subcontractor’s operations for the following classification: “carpentry-construction of residential property not exceeding three stories in height.” Buewater Builders, 2013 WL at *1. The Declarations page further provided that coverage was strictly limited to this classification and that no coverage would be provided for any other classification.  The policy did not cover the subcontractor’s work at a commercial high-rise tower.

 

The general contractor argued that the insurer should be estopped from relying on the exclusionary language in the policy because it received a COI from the subcontractor and it detrimentally relied on this COI in hiring the subcontractor. Specifically, the general contractor relied on the doctrine of promissory estoppel which applies when a “plaintiff detrimentally relies upon a defendant’s promise, the defendant should have expected the promise to induce reliance, and injustice can only be avoided by enforcement of the promise.” Bluewater Builders, 2013 WL at *3. However, the general contractor could not point to any promise the insurer actually made because the insured-subcontractor was the one that transmitted the COI. And, the COI did not state that it would insure the subcontractor’s work for the project; it was simply evidence of insurance without any “promise.” In fact, the COI at-issue is believed to have not even listed the insurer as the liability insurer for the subcontractor. Thus, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer finding there was no coverage for the subcontractor’s work at the commercial high-rise under the policy.

 

 

It is important to remember that the COI does not create an obligation for an insurer.  This is demonstrated by the following portion of the Court’s opinion:

 

The Certificate [of Insurance] does not suggest that Defendant [insurer] would insure Ferman [insured-subcontractor], nor does it create some other obligation on Defendant’s part. Further insight into the preparation of the Certificate [of Insurance] is therefore inapposite to whether Defendant owes any obligation to Ferman or Plaintiff [general contractor] under the Policy.”

Bluewater Builders, 2013 at *4.

 

Remember, the COI does not create insurance coverage which is why it is always beneficial to see the policy and, as it pertains to additional insured status, to see the actual additional insured endorsement.

 

For more information on a third party suing a liability carrier, please see http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/a-third-party-suing-a-liability-carrier/

 

For more information on additional insured status, please see http://www.floridaconstructionlegalupdates.com/understanding-your-rights-as-an-additional-insured/

 

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.