Since 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.
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