CONSULTANT’S CORNER: WHY SHOULD CONSTRUCTION BUSINESS OWNERS CARE ABOUT CYBER LIABILITY INSURANCE?

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Recently, I wrote an article on the importance of cyber liability insurance for design professionals.  The reality, however, is that this is important insurance for all professionals in today’s day and age.  

 

A modern, online insurance broker called Embroker was kind enough to submit a guest post on cyber liability insurance.  Check it out!!!

 

WHY SHOULD CONSTRUCTION BUSINESS OWNERS CARE ABOUT CYBER LIABILITY INSURANCE?

 

By:  Charles Bohanan, Embroker 

 

According to the Cybersecurity Ventures Report, the cost of cybercrime could reach $6 trillion by 2021. That same report predicts that cybercrime will expand into new sectors, such as the construction industry. Assuming your construction business has moved beyond pencil and paper drawings, paper invoices and mailed checks, this prediction is cause for concern. In fact, it’s already come true, as the 2013 Target cyber breach which led to a $39 million court settlement came through a HVAC contractor, a development which underscores the need for Cyber Liability insurance.

 

Considering the numerous issues facing construction business owners — from budget and time constraints to production methods to fire hazards — Cyber Liability insurance may seem like a low priority. But f you expect to stay in business and be profitable, that’s simply not the case.

 

Why Cybercriminals target construction businesses

 

The cybersecurity systems of small and mid-sized businesses aren’t as robust as big firms, which makes them an easier target for hackers. A construction project in the wrong hands can wreak havoc for both your client and your heard-earned reputation as a contractor. Hackers could steal:

 

● sensitive or proprietary data and assets

● subcontractor data or financials

● banking and financial accounts

● intellectual property

● employee information (Social Security numbers, bank account data, etc.)

 

At the most basic level, you can make sure your firewalls are enabled and updated, train employees on security protocols, secure your company’s network, and change passwords regularly — but these things are not enough.

 

Understanding Cyber Liability insurance

 

Like other kinds of insurance, cyber liability insurance is a must for small and medium enterprises, because just one cyberattack is often enough to put such firms out of business.

 

Good insurance is never one size fits all, so there are a number of innovative coverage options to consider. Some of the more popular forms of risk management insurance include:

 

First Party Insurance: These policies take care of most related expenses if your network is compromised by unauthorized access, a data breach, hacktivists (social activist hackers), or otherwise. Additionally, most of these cyber security policies also cover forensic and legal services related to the breach itself, mandatory notification costs, fraud monitoring services, and other direct costs. Many indirect costs, such as reputation management and vendor costs, are covered as well.

 

 

Third Party Insurance: These cyber liability insurance policies protect your business from judgements related to a security breach, whether the lawsuits are from customers, partners, or shareholders. Third party insurance also covers privacy and network security matters.

 

Most construction companies need both these policies.

 

An insurance broker will identify your specific risks and needs and tailor the cyber insurance coverage to them. A good broker not only offers the right policy, but also helps you understand the risks you are dealing with, as well as the legal and regulatory background. Be sure your broker has IT professionals and lawyers in house, or at least works closely with them, and has a deep understanding of your industry, and most importantly — where you’re going as a company.

 

Using technology can certainly help your construction business grow, but it also makes it vulnerable. Contrary to popular belief, small construction companies have no special immunity due to the type of business, size, or because they do not use new technology “that much.” Luckily, that same technology can also help you reach to the right team of people that can help you without the problems normally associated with cyber liability insurance. A modern insurance tech solutions broker has a platform that finds which insurance policies are best for you and compares policies across your industry to thoroughly understand your company, so you get tailored insurance coverage with less guesswork. 

NEGLIGENT PROCUREMENT OF INSURANCE

shutterstock_540587629As you know, insurance is an important part of risk assessment for many, many business needs.  Oftentimes, an insured relies on an insurance broker or agent to procure specific insurance to meet its express business objectives and risks.  Notably, there is a potential negligence claim associated with an insurance agent or broker’s negligent procurement of insurance for an insured.  While this is not the easiest claim to prove, a recent Third District case explained this standard:

 

It is well settled that “where an insurance agent or broker undertakes to obtain insurance coverage for another person and fails to do so, he may be held liable for resulting damages for . . . negligence.  More specifically, and as applicable here, “[a]n agent is required to use reasonable skill and diligence, and liability may result from a negligent failure to obtain coverage which is specifically requested or clearly warranted by the insured’s expressed needs.”  As explained by our sister court, “[t]his general duty requires the agent to exercise due care in correctly advising the insured of the existence and availability of particular insurance, including the availability and desirability of obtaining higher limits, depending on the scope of the agents undertaking.” 

Kendall South Medical Center, Inc. v. Consolidated Ins. Nation, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1071a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017) (internal quotations omitted).

 

 

In this case, a leak occurred on commercial leased premises.  The commercial tenant had a property insurance policy that provided $100,000 of coverage for the physical improvements and contents of the property.  However, there was a 90% coinsurance provision.  A coinsurance provision shifts risk to the insured when the insured purchases less coverage than the value of the property. 

 

As a result of the coinsurance provision, the insured only received a fraction of its damages, and less than the $100,000 in coverage.    The insured, however, claimed it was under the belief it would recover $100,000 in insurance proceeds as that was what it told its agent it needed.  The insured sued its insurance agent claiming the agent’s failure to advise it that the procured policy did not address its expressed insurance needs. “[W]hen an insured alleges that it specifically communicated its insurance needs to an agent who then undertook to procure a policy addressing such needs, the insured states a cause of action for negligent procurement where it also alleges that, without providing an explanation that different coverage was required, the agent procured a policy not meeting those expressed needs.”  Kendall South Medical Center, supra.

 

Perhaps this could have been avoided had the insured reviewed the specific terms of the insurance policy.  Perhaps there are e-mails or other records where the insurance agent explained that the coverage the insured was seeking could not be procured without a coinsurance provision that shifted the risk to the insured.  Know your insurance and know the risks and coverage afforded to you!

 

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.

CGL POLICIES AND THE EXCLUSION FOR POLLUTANTS

images-1Owners, contractors, and subcontractors, etc. need to understand the liability insurance coverage they maintain so that in event of a claim relating to bodily injury or property damage they know whether there is potential coverage for the claim.  Not only does this include understanding the exclusions in the policies, but also understanding endorsements that may further restrict or modify coverage.

 

CGL policies contain a pollution exclusion that excludes environmental pullutants / contaminants (as it has been referred to as an absolute pollution exclusion). If an entity requires the type of insurance to cover potential environmental liabilities, there is pollution liability insurance that can be procured, but this is separate from the CGL policy.

 

Although not a construction dispute, the recent case of Endurance American Specialty Ins. Co. v. Savits-Daniel Travel Centes, Inc., 2014 WL 2600071 (S.D.Fla. 2014), illustrates the general application of the pollution exclusion in a personal injury situation.  In this case, a woman was at a bar and was exposed to pepper spray causing her to fall and fatally hit her head. Her estate sued the owner of the premises and the owner tendered the claim to its CGL carrier.  The carrier denied coverage and an action for declaratory relief ensued to determine whether the CGL carrier was responsible for a duty to defend and indemnify.  The issue in the case was whether the pepper spray constituted a pollutant; if it was a pollutant, then bodily injury arising out of the pepper spray pollutant was excluded from coverage.

 

The policy contained the following language (common to CGL policies):

 

2. Exclusions This insurance does not apply to:

* * * *

f. Pollution

(1) “Bodily injury” or “property damage” arising out of the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape of “pollutants”:

(a) At or from any premises, site or location which is or was at any time owned or occupied by, or rented or loaned to, any insured.

* * * *

SECTION V—DEFINITIONS

* * * *

15. “Pollutants” mean any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste. Waste includes materials to be recycled, reconditioned or reclaimed.

 

In addition, there was an endorsement that further restricted coverage known as the Mold, Fungus, Bacteria, Virus, and Organic Pathogen Exclusion:”

 

ENDORSEMENT

This endorsement modifies insurance provided under the following:

COMMERCIAL GENERAL LIABILITY COVERAGE FORM

MOLD, FUNGUS, BACTERIA, VIRUS AND ORGANIC

PATHOGEN EXCLUSION

It is hereby agreed that this policy shall not apply:

1. to “bodily injury”, “property damage”, or “personal and advertising injury”;

2. to damages for devaluation of property or for the taking, use or acquisition or interference with the rights of others in property or air space;

3. to any loss, cost or expense, including but not limited to fines and penalties, arising out of any governmental direction or request, or any private party or citizen action, that an insured test for, monitor, clean up, remove, contain, treat, detoxify or neutralize “organic pathogens”; or

4. to any “suit” or administrative or regulatory procedure or process in which an insured may be involved as a party;

arising, directly or indirectly, or in concurrence or in any sequence out of or in any way relating to actual, alleged or threatened existence, discharge, dispersal, release or escape of “organic pathogens,” whether or not such actual, alleged or threatened existence, discharge, dispersal, release or escape is sudden, accidental or gradual in nature.

 

This insurance shall not apply to any “bodily injury”, “property damage”, “personal and advertising injury”, loss, cost or expense arising out of or in any way related to any form of “organic pathogens,” whether or not such actual, alleged or threatened existence, discharge, dispersal, release or escape is intentionally caused, or whether or not such injury, damage, devaluation, cost or expense is expected or intended from the standpoint of the insured.

 

Organic pathogen” means any organic irritant or contaminant, including but not limited to mold, fungus, bacteria or virus, including but not limited to their byproducts, such as mycotoxins, mildew, or biogenic aerosols.

 

 

The Southern District agreed with the CGL insurer based on the exclusionary pollution language in the policy that pepper spray was a pollutant excluded from coverage.

 

Check your CGL policy and corresponding endorsements.  You will see the pollution exclusion.  During construction, there are certainly pollution / environmental risks that would require a contractor to obtain such insurance to cover and address these risks.  The objective is know the risks you need covered and the policies you have in place to ensure you are being covered for those risks.

 

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.