GOOD OLE DUTY TO DEFEND

shutterstock_513564982The good ole duty to defend. Certainly, a duty that should not be overlooked.

 

A commercial general liability insurer has two duties to its insured when it comes to third-party claims: 1) the duty to defend its insured and 2) the duty to indemnify its insured.

 

The insurer’s duty to defend its insured will always be broader than its duty to indemnify because this duty is triggered by the allegations in the lawsuit.  (For this precise reason, insurers will oftentimes defend their insured under a reservation of rights.)  The duty to defend is a very important duty as it is the first duty that typically comes into play when a third-party claim / action is initiated against the insured.  Getting the insurer on board to provide a defense is an initial focus. One that cannot be neglected or overlooked.

 

If an insurer denies or refuses to defend its insured, this means the insurer is denying coverage outright.  In other words, the insurer is coming out of the gate denying the duty to indemnify the insured and, as such, denying the duty to defend.  There is no reservation of rights because the insurer is not going to provide a defense based on its denial of coverage.  When this happens, it is imperative that the insured consult with counsel.  Not later or tomorrow or down the road.   But, now!  Immediately.  At a minimum, an insured wants to ensure that its insurer is picking-up the broader duty to defend and needs to make sure its rights are protected and preserved.

 

In Mid-Continent Casualty Company v. Flora-Tech PlantScapes, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1649a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a general contractor initiated a third-party claim against a landscaper in a personal injury action.  (It is uncertain whether the landscaper was hired by the general contractor or the developer.)  The  landscaper’s commercial general liability insurer denied coverage and, therefore, refused to defend the insured in the lawsuit. As a result, the landscaper initiated a fourth-party claim against its own insurer for coverage seeking a declaration that its insurer had a duty to defend it in the lawsuit and indemnify it for the third-party claims being asserted against it.   Both the landscaper and its insurer filed motions for summary judgment and the trial court declared that the insurer had a duty to defend its insured, but that it was not making a determination as to the insurer’s duty to indemnify.  From the insured-landscaper’s standpoint, this likely was fine because the landscaper was initially looking for a declaration that its insurer had a duty to provide it a defense in the personal injury action.

 

 

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.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

SHOULD CGL INSURER HAVE DUTY TO DEFEND INSURED DURING CHAPTER 558 NOTICE OF CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS PROCESS???

UnknownDoes a CGL insurer have a duty to defend its insured-contractor during Florida Statutes Chapter 558 notice of construction defects pre-suit process?  This answer is currently undecided and will be up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide.  (It is on appeal stemming from a federal district court saying that an insurer does not have a duty to defend its insured-contractor in the 558 process based on the definition of the word “suit” in the CGL policy.)

 

Why is this an important issue?

 

The 558 pre-suit notice of construction defects process is designed to facilitate an avenue for construction defect lawsuits to get resolved without having to file a lawsuit or, at least, have issues narrowed before a lawsuit needs to be filed.  (Check here for a summary of the 558 process.)  It requires pre-suit notifications so that implicated parties can become aware of the defects and have an opportunity to inspect the defects / damage, test the defects / damage, and respond to the notice of construction defects; it provides an avenue for beneficial pre-suit discovery.  Through participating in the 558 process, the contractor and/or design professional (and those downstream from them) can:  (i) offer to remedy the defect, (ii) settle the defect, whether through money or a combination of money and repairs, (iii) dispute the defect, or (iv) advise that available insurance proceeds will be determined by its  liability insurer.  See Fla. Stat. s. 558.004.

 

There are definitely some pros and cons to the 558 pre-suit process.  There is no doubt about this.  But, if the insured-contractor’s insurer is not on board with the process, then it invariably will fail (unless the defects are relatively minor in nature).  Why will it fail?  Because 558 notice of construction defect letters can contain an extensive laundry list of defects–some minor, some major and complicated.  This means that the insured-contractor really needs an expert or experts on board to truly analyze these issues from a liability and damages standpoint including the most cost effective approach to remedy the defects and corresponding damage.  This, as you can imagine, is costly.  The insured-contractor also wants to know that if a monetary settlement is made, the settlement includes insurance proceeds for damages covered by the CGL policy.  

 

All of this can really only effectively take place if the insurer defends the insured-contractor in this process to best assess its risk and any forthcoming lawsuit that should (hopefully) nevertheless trigger the insurer’s duty to defend its insured-contractor.   Hence, there is no reason for the insurer not be engaged in the process and defend its insured-contractor, at least under a reservation of rights.  Unfortunately, if the liability insurer disengages from the process and is not willing to defend its insured in the process, then the insured-contractor in many instances is best-off waiting for that lawsuit that will then (a) trigger the insurer’s duty to defend and (b) require the insurer to now incur the costs of the defense, including experts, to defend its insured.  By the insurer not defending its insured-contractor earlier, such as the 558 process, all it is doing is inviting an expensive multi-party lawsuit and not educating itself of the nature of the defects and damage (i.e., its risk assessment) so that efforts can be made to resolve the defect claim, narrow the issues, or develop the framework of the defense.

 

  

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: CGL INSURER LIABLE FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES IF IT UNJUSTIFIABLY REFUSED TO PROVIDE YOU DEFENSE

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If your CGL (or liability) insurer unjustifiably refuses to provide you a defense in a lawsuit, the insurer is liable for the reasonable attorney’s fees and costs you incur in defending that lawsuit.  The operative word is “unjustifiably.”  For instance, if you get sued and your CGL insurer refuses to provide you a defense and you retain private counsel to defend you, the CGL insurer will be liable for your attorney’s fees and costs if it should have provided you a duty defend in connection with that suit.  Of course, on the other hand, if the CGL insurer justifiably refused to defend you (based on the allegations in the lawsuit / claim and coverage under the policy) then it will not be liable for your reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

 

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.