If 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.