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.

 

COMPELLING REASONS NOT TO ENFORCE SUBCONTRACT VENUE PROVISIONS IN MULTI-PARTY CONSTRUCTION DEFECT CASES

imagesSubcontracts oftentimes contain venue provisions as to the exclusive venue for lawsuits.  These venue provisions or forum selection clauses are consistent with the general contractor’s preferred venue; the venue, however, may be in a location unrelated to the project site. Sometimes the general contractor is sued by an owner (or association) for construction defects in a venue different than the venue included in the subcontracts.  The general contractor, as it should, will third-party into the lawsuit those subcontractors that are implicated by the owner’s complaint for breach of contract, indemnification, etc.

 

Certain subcontractors will move to transfer venue based on the venue provision in their subcontract.  Despite the venue provision, transferring venue is really in no one’s best interest since it is more efficient and economical to have multi-party construction defect cases tried and adjudicated in the same action versus many separate actions.  The recent case of Love’s Window & Door Installation, Inc. v. Acousti Engineering, Etc., 39 Fla. L. Weekly D1963a (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) supports this position.  In this multi-party construction defect case, a sub-subcontractor that was sued by the subcontractor that hired it moved to transfer venue.  The trial court denied the motion and the sub-subcontractor appealed.  The Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that there were compelling reasons not to enforce the venue provision (e.g., to prevent multiple lawsuits, minimize judicial labor, avoid inconsistent results, and reduce expenses).

 

Yes, venue provisions are important and routinely enforceable.  But, there are times where it is in the interests of justice and the parties NOT to enforce a venue provision, such as a multi-party construction defect case.

 

Notwithstanding, I always like to include a joinder provision in a construction contract that allows the hiring party (e.g., general contractor) to sue the hired party (e.g., subcontractor) in any forum and venue that the hiring party is sued.  For example, in a subcontract, I would want a provision that allows the general contractor to sue (or third-party / join) the subcontractor in any venue and forum the general contractor is sued by any third-party, association, or owner.  Such a provision ensures that even if the hired party (subcontractor) wants to rely on the venue provision, there is a joinder provision in the subcontract that negates the application of the venue provision in this context.

 

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.

DO NOT LET LACK OF NOTICE VOID YOUR INSURANCE COVERAGE

UnknownThe Southern District of Florida’s opinion in Pharm. D v. Founders Insurance Co., 2014 WL 32557844 (S.D.Fla. 2014) illustrates that absolute importance of notifying a liability insurer of a claim and a lawsuit; otherwise, coverage that would be afforded to an insured could be voided.  This should never occur!

 

In this matter, a water pipe ruptured and a fire occurred at the insured’s premises.  This resulted in damage to a pharmacy located below the insured’s premises.  Due to this damage, the pharmacy filed a lawsuit against the insured.  The insured failed to take any action in the lawsuit and a default judgment was entered against the insured for in excess of $500,000.

 

Years later, the (third party) pharmacy sued the insured’s CGL (commercial general liability) insurer to recover the amount of its default judgment against the insurer.  The insurer argued that coverage should be voided because its insured violated the terms of the policy.  Specifically, the insured had the obligation to notify the insurer of any claim or suit as soon as practicable and to send copies of any lawsuit to its insurer.  Apparently, the insured never did this and the insurer had no notice of the lawsuit.  The Southern District agreed with the insurer that the lack of notice voided coverage:

 

The insurance policy in question had a continuing notice obligation for a reason: the insured had the best information on legal action brought against it and, therefore, the insured was required to keep its insurer informed of developments. Accordingly, the insured had two distinct duties: (1) to notify Defendant [insurer] of any claims and (2) to notify Defendant of any lawsuits filed which may implicate the insurance policy.

***

The record shows there is no genuine dispute of material fact that the insured failed to notify Defendant of the state lawsuit and, thus, materially breached the insurance policy. As a matter of law, this breach absolved Defendant of its contractual requirement to defend in the state lawsuit and renders Defendant not liable on the default judgment entered in state court.”

Pharm. D, supra, at *3, *5.

 

The lesson learned from this matter is that if suing a party in which liability insurance is applicable (such as any case involving property damage or personal injury), take affirmative steps to ensure that the party’s liability insurer (CGL insurer) is notified of a claim and of the lawsuit.  Even if the party does not respond to the lawsuit, send a copy of the lawsuit to the party’s insurer.  Take steps to locate the insurer or the party’s insurance broker to ensure that proper notice is served and so that you are not relying on a potentially silent party to notify its insurer of a lawsuit (especially, when you are relying on insurance to cover your damages).  Clearly, in this matter, the insured-party did nothing despite having CGL coverage that perhaps would have covered some of the pharmacy’s damages.

 

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 DRAWBACK OF BEING A THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT IN A CONSTRUCTION DISPUTE

Airconditioning-systemThe Florida Supreme Court just entered an opinion that potentially has huge implications in construction defect disputes. In Caduceus Properties, LLC v. William G. Graney, P.E., 39 Fla. L. Weekly S93a (2014), an owner sued its architect for design defects with its HVAC system. The architect third-partied into the dispute its mechanical engineer (sub-consultant). The architect’s third-party claims were dismissed for failure to comply with a court order and the architect ultimately declared bankruptcy. The owner, AFTER the statute of limitations expired to assert defect claims, amended its complaint to assert direct claims against the mechanical engineer (also, after the mechanical engineer had already been dismissed from the dispute). The issue the Florida Supreme Court analyzed was whether the owner could assert these claims after the expiration of the statute of limitations since the mechanical engineer was previously a third-party defendant in the dispute. Stated differently, did the owner’s claims against the mechanical engineer relate back to the original third party complaint the architect timely asserted against the mechanical engineer such that the claims were timely filed within the statute of limitations? The Florida Supreme Court held the owner could do this: “[A]n amended complaint filed after the statute of limitations has expired, naming a party who had previously been made a third-party defendant as a party defendant, relates back…to the filing of the third party complaint.”

 

Why are the implications huge? In a construction defect case, oftentimes there are third-party defendants.  In this case, it was a sub-consultant of the architect. In many cases, it is the general contractor that asserts third-party claims against subcontractors. Sometimes, a subcontractor moves to dismiss the claims and prevails and/or settles directly with the general contractor. Well, now, based on this ruling, even if the subcontractor is dismissed, as long as a third-party complaint was asserted against it, it could potentially be back-doored into the dispute by the owner / plaintiff. The owner would just assert a claim against the subcontractor, even after the expiration of the statute of limitations, and argue that under the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling its claims against the subcontractor relate back to the initial third-party complaint that the general contractor timely filed against the subcontractor. Ouch! Therefore, now, a third-party defendant may not get the solace they think they deserve from getting dismissed from a lawsuit or settling directly with the party that sued it. So, a subcontractor or third-party defendant that wants to settle is best getting the owner to sign off on the settlement to ensure it does not get back-doored into the very lawsuit it was dismissed from. On the other hand, this gives the owner options to sue third-party defendants brought into the dispute after the expiration of the statute of limitations if there are concerns with the solvency of the defendant it sued (e.g., general contractor or architect that are usually in direct privity of contract with the owner).

 

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.

 

CONTRIBUTION CLAIMS TO PASS-THROUGH LIABILITY


images-1In lawsuits, there are times the defendant elects to sue a third-party defendant to pass-through its liability to the plaintiff to the third-party defendant. For example, in a construction defect scenario where the owner sues the general contractor, the general contractor will often sue subcontractors (third-party defendants) in order to pass-through its liability to the owner to subcontractors that performed the scopes of work at-issue. In other situations, a defendant may assert a cross-claim against another defendant to, among other things, pass-through any liability it has to the plaintiff to the other defendant. For example, in a construction defect scenario where the owner sues both the general contractor and subcontractors, the general contractor will often assert a cross-claim against the subcontractors to pass through its liability to the subcontractors.

 

A claim for contribution used to be a common claim asserted to pass-through liability in negligence-related actions. Contribution claims were routine in negligence actions when there used to be joint and several liability, i.e., a party could be responsible for all of the plaintiff’s damages irrespective of its percentage of fault with other defendants. “To state a claim for contribution, the claimant must allege a common liability to the injured party [plaintiff].” Horowitz v. Laske, 855 So.2d 169, 174(Fla. 5th DCA 2003). In other words, the defendant and third-party defendant must be jointly liable / negligent to the plaintiff for the injuries the plaintiff sustained. Therefore, by asserting a contribution claim, the defendant ensures that fault is allocated to another party that is jointly liable for the damages sustained by the plaintiff.

 

However, Florida abolished joint and several liability in negligence actions and, now, a defendant can only be liable based on its determined percentage of fault. See Fla. Stat. s. 768.81; see also T&S Enterprises Handicap Accessibility, Inc. v. Wink Indus. Maintenance & Repair, Inc., 11 So.3d 411 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (affirming dismissal of defendant’s third party claim for contribution in underlying negligence action due to abolishment of joint and several liability). Because of this, third-party defendants or cross-claim defendants that are sued for contribution should argue that the contribution claim is moot because the party suing it can only be held liable for its percentage of fault or negligence. Some judges will dismiss a contribution claim for this reason on a motion to dismiss, but others will still allow the claim to proceed beyond a motion to dismiss for judicial efficiency and economy since it is easier to wrap up a dispute in one litigation instead of many (considering contribution claims have been routine claims to pass-through liability).

 

imagesThe opinion in Martinez v. Miami-Dade County, 2013 WL 5434159 (S.D.Fla. 2013) is a non-construction case that illustrates how a claim for contribution can proceed. In this case, a plaintiff sued Miami-Dade County and a bar for injuries the plaintiff sustained by off-duty police officers providing security for the bar. The claims against Miami-Dade Couty were sounded in intentional tort theories and not negligence theories. Miami-Dade County asserted a cross-claim against the bar and included a claim for contribution. The bar moved to dismiss the contribution claim arguing that contribution claims are obsolete under Florida law since there is no more joint and several liability. The Southern District Court disagreed expressing that because the plaintiff’s theories against Miami-Dade County were sounded in intentional tort and not negligence, section 768.81 did not apply. (Notably, section 768.81 section does not apply to intentional tort theories of liability.)

 

Under section 768.81, a negligence action means “without limitation, a civil action for damages based upon a theory of negligence, strict liability, products liability, professional malpractice whether couched in terms of contract or tort, or breach of warranty and like theories. The substance of an action, not conclusory terms used by a party, determines whether an action is a negligence action.” Fla. Stat. s. 768.81(1)(c). Therefore, even if the claims asserted are not labeled negligence claims, this section still applies to bar joint and several liability to ensure a party is only liable for their percentage of fault. It is designed so that substance over form is analyzed to determine whether the plaintiff’s underlying action is a negligence action even if it is not labeled as such.

 

This opinion in Martinez, however, could support the argument that a contribution claim could be asserted outside of a negligence claim such as a breach of contract action (since, in the case, a contribution claim was still allowed to proceed in an intentional tort action). And, even though section 768.81 shifts the focus from the label of the plaintiff’s claims to the actual substance underlying the claims, the objective is to argue that plaintiff’s claims are not based in negligence, but based in a material breach of a contractual provision. For example, in a construction defect setting, when the general contractor is sued for breach of contract, there may be strategic reasons why the general contractor would want to attempt to assert a contribution claim in addition to an indemnification claim against subcontractors to pass-through liability. The general contractor would argue that the plaintiff’s claims are not based in negligence but based in contract since the plaintiff is asserting that the project was not constructed per the contract documents (or in a workmanlike manner) per contractual provisions.

 

Finally, if a general contractor elects to assert a contribution claim, it is important to remember that the claim will only survive if it asserts and can establish that it and the subcontractor(s) share a common liability to the owner. This is challenging.

 

In Helmet House Corp. v. Stoddard, 861 So.2d 1178 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003), a contractor was sued by an owner for breach of contract and breach of warranty for defective construction of a roof. The contractor asserted a third party party complaint against its roofing subcontractor for contribution. The Fourth District held that the contractor could not pursue a contribution claim against its subcontractor because the subcontractor did not share a common obligation / liability to the owner. The Fourth District found that parties share a common liability if they are joint tortfeasors or co-obligors on an obligation. Importantly, many subcontracts contain flow-down provisions that bind the subcontractor to the general contractor to the same extent the general contractor is bound to the owner. Flow-down provisions attempt to impose the exact same liability on the subcontractor that the general contractor assumes towards the owner. With this type of provision, or an alternative provision that would make the owner an intended third-party beneficiary of the subcontract, there may be an argument that subcontractors do indeed share a common liability to the owner with the general contractor for defects with their scopes of work.  From the general contractor’s perspective, the objective is to pass-through liability for defective construction with arguments based on the plaintiff’s allegations in the complaint.

 

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.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON PERFORMANCE BOND CLAIMS

constructiondefect[1]Owners need to understand the benefit of a performance bond before deciding they do not want to reimburse the contractor for the premium associated with the bond. The performance bond is designed to guarantee the contractor’s faithful performance of the contract. There are numerous ways the bond can come into play. If the contractor goes bankrupt during construction, the owner can assert a claim against the bond. If the contractor gets terminated for default, the owner can assert a claim against the bond. And, if there are construction defects, particularly latent defects, the owner can assert a claim against the bond. Naturally, a benefit of the performance bond is that the contract is presumably guaranteed by a solvent surety (insurance company), which is important based on the value of the contract and/or perceived solvency of the hired contractor.

 

Importantly, performance bonds have a five year statute of limitations irrespective of the ten year statute of repose period in Florida. See Federal Ins. Co. v. Southwest Retirement Center, Inc., 707 So.2d 1119 (Fla. 1998). The Florida Supreme Court in Southwest Retirement Center held that the statute of limitations on a performance bond in a case involving latent defects accrues (begins to run) “on the date of acceptance of the project as having been completed according to terms and conditions set out in the construction contract.” Id. at 1121. Thus, the statute of limitations begins to run on this date and expires five years thereafter—no matter when the defect was discovered.

 

A factual issue can arise based on parties’ differing interpretations as to the meaning of “acceptance of the project as having been completed according to terms and conditions set out in the construction contract.” The opinion in GBMC, LLC v. Proset Systems, Inc., 2013 WL 1629162 (N.D.Fla. 2013), illustrates this factual issue. In this case, the performance bond surety moved for summary judgment arguing that the statute of limitations began to accrue on the date of substantial completion. To support this position, the surety pointed to the construction contract that maintained that the statute of limitations accrues no later than the date of substantial completion. (Notably, this is common language in construction contracts, particularly the AIA Document A201 which appears to be the general conditions of the contract executed by the parties.) The Northern District of Florida, however, did not buy this argument because it is illegal under Florida law for parties to contractually shorten the statute of limitations. See Fla. Stat. s. 95.03. In other words, if substantial completion occurred before the “acceptance of the project has having been completed according to the terms and conditions set out in the contract,” then the parties were illegally agreeing to shorten the limitations period. Because there were material facts in dispute as to when the contract was accepted as completed, the surety’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

 

Owners that plan on asserting a claim against a performance bond for latent defects need to understand when the statute of limitations accrues for purposes of their claim. Based on the project’s completion, the owner will want to create a factual issue as to when it accepted as completed the contract since this date is arguably later than the substantial completion date and, thus, the certificate of occupancy date. This language is a benefit to the owner asserting a latent defect claim on the cusp of five years from the date it started using the project for its intended purpose, particularly if the owner did not release retainage until well after occupancy. Contractors (indemnifying their surety) and sureties need to recognize this so they can start framing a statute of limitations defense based on facts supporting when the contract was accepted as completed by the owner. The contractor should do this by tracking the temporary and/or final certificate of occupancy dates and when final payment was made to argue that the owner accepted the project when it started occupying the project for its intended purpose. A contractor or surety will need to persuasively make this argument if the certificate of occupancy was issued more than five years from the lawsuit but the owner’s final payment to the contractor for retainage was within five years from the lawsuit. The reason being is that language “accepted as completed” allows the owner to argue that they never accepted the project as completed by virtue of not issuing the final payment until an extended period after the certificate of occupancy.

 

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 “YOUR PRODUCT” EXCLUSION

images[1]Understanding exclusions in insurance policies is important to understand what is and what is not covered under the policy. The recent case of Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. MI Windows & Doors, 38 Fla. L. Weekly, D1890a (Fla. 2nd DCA 2013), discusses the “your product” exclusion that is found in CGL policies.

 

 

In this case, MI is a manufacturer of sliding glass doors. It sold its doors to All Seasons which installed the sliding glass doors in condominium projects. In some of the condominiums, All Seasons manufactured and installed transoms along the top of the sliding glass doors. Condominium associations sued MI and All Seasons when the condominiums experienced damage from tropical storms and hurricanes. MI settled the lawsuits. It then sued its CGL carrier to recover consequential damages and for the costs of replacing defective sliding glass doors in the condominiums.
The CGL carrier argued at the trial level that the “your product” exclusion barred coverage for MI’s damages to its products, i.e., sliding glass doors. The trial court found that the “your product” exclusion did not apply to the doors with transoms because adding the transoms to the top of the sliding glass doors significantly changed the doors. Thus, the doors were no longer MI’s product.

 

The “your product” exclusion in MI’s CGL policy provided that the insurance did not apply to:

 

Damage to Your Product. ‘Property Damage’ to ‘your product’ arising out of it or any part of it.”

 

On appeal, the Second District reversed finding that “[t]he addition of transoms to the sliding glass doors did not fundamentally change the nature and function of those doors.” MI Windows & Doors, supra. In other words, because the sliding glass doors continued to operate as sliding glass doors even with the addition of the transoms, the doors remained MI’s product. For this reason, the Second District held that the “your product” exclusion applied to bar damages to replace the doors.

 

 

In MI Windows & Doors, the Court found that if alchemy alters the original product, then the “your product” exclusion may not apply based on cases outside of Florida that discuss this exclusion. Importantly, however, the Court footnoted Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. American Building Materials, Inc., 820 F.Supp.2d 1265, 1272 (M.D.Fla. 2011), where the Middle District of Florida also discussed this exclusion. The Middle District in this case maintained that drywall that was incorporated into a house was not barred by the “your product” exclusion based on the language of the exclusion because the drywall, once incorporated, became real property and the exclusion did not apply to real property.  Because this case or issue was not framed on appeal in MI Windows & Doors, the Court did not apply this case to the facts.

 

 

The “your product” exclusion can be found in CGL policies to bar coverage. Understanding the exclusion as written in the policy (as well as other exclusions) is important so that coverage is understood before or when a dispute arises.

 

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.

FLORIDA CONDOMINIUM ACT STATUTORY WARRANTIES — DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MANUFACTURER AND SUPPLIER

can-stock-photo_csp9881764A benefit to condominium unit owners and their associations is that Florida’s Condominium Act provides for statutory warranties that are extended from developers, the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers. Fla. Stat. s. 718.203. These statutory warranties allow for direct breach of statutory warranty claims against the responsible party. The statutory warranties included in Florida’s Condominium Act are set forth at the bottom.

 

In The Port Marina Condominium Association, Inc. v. Roof Services, Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1876a (Fla. 4th DCA 2013), the Court discussed a breach of statutory warranty claim against a manufacturer compared to a supplier of building materials to a project. Florida’s Condominium Act does not provide a statutory warranty that extends to manufacturers. In this case, the developer hired a roofer to install a roof on boat storage building with a manufacturer guarantee from GAF (manufacturer) for the roofing product called TOPCOAT. After the condominium was turned over to the Association, leaks in the roof of the boat storage building were discovered. The Association was told that the leaks were due to the failure of the TOPCOAT product. A GAF manufacturer’s representative inspected the roof and advised that the product did not fail, rather it was the application of the product by the roofer that failed (which would not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, which typically does not cover workmanship).

 

The Association filed a complaint against the manufacturer (and others) for breach of the statutory warranties. The manufacturer moved to dismiss because Florida’s Condominium Act does not allow for a breach of a statutory warranty claim against a manufacturer. As it relates to a claim against a supplier, the Court explained:

 

The essential elements of a cause of action under this statutory provision against a supplier are: (1) the defendant is a supplier of materials to a condominium; (2) the materials failed to conform to the generally accepted standards of merchantability applicable to goods of that kind, or the materials failed to conform to the requirements specified in the contract; and (3) the failure of the goods to conform was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages. See Leisure Resorts, 654 So.2d at 914. “Supplier” and “manufacturer” are not defined in Chapter 718, Florida Statutes. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “supplier” as “a person engaged, directly or indirectly, in the business of making a product available to consumers,” and “manufacturer” as “a person or entity engaged in producing or assembling new products.” Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009).

 

The Port Marina Condominium, supra.

 

Whether the Association could properly assert a claim against GAF (manufacturer of TOPCOAT) is based on whether GAF was a supplier or manufacturer for purposes of the condominium project. The Court noted that the distinction would be whether GAF furnished, sold, or delivered anything to the entities involved in construction, i.e., “‘was in the business of making the product available to consumers,’” as opposed to merely “‘producing or assembling’” the product that Best Roofing, a roofing contractor [that applied the product], not a consumer, then purchased and used for the roofing project.” The Port Marina, supra.

 

The distinction between a supplier and manufacturer is not always clear as a manufacturer can be a supplier with respect to a given product. Typically, one would think of GAF as a roofing manufacturer where its materials are likely sold through distributors or retailers (e.g., supply companies). Where the supply company could certainly be a supplier if it sold products directly for purposes of the project, the manufacturer should not constitute a supplier.

 

In this case the Court allowed the Association to amend its Complaint to clarify that GAF was a supplier and not a manufacturer in order to survive a motion to dismiss. It is uncertain whether the Association pursued a claim against the manufacturer for breach of an express warranty. In particular, if the Association has an argument that the manufacturer breached the express warranty for TOPCOAT that was assigned or extended to it (oftentimes these manufacturer warranties state they are assignable or extended to the end user), then perhaps a breach of express warranty claim could have been asserted against it. While there could have been hurdles with this claim because privity of contract is generally required to assert a breach of express or implied warranty claim, this privity of contract requirement could have been negated if there was an assignable warranty.

 

Understanding the statutory warranties is important for Associations and condominium unit owners because it is a benefit that should be realized. Equally important is the manner in which allegations are pled in a complaint in order to survive any motions to dismiss and get the potentially responsible parties to the table.

 

Fla. Stat. s. 718.203

(1) The developer shall be deemed to have granted to the purchaser of each unit an implied warranty of fitness and merchantability for the purposes or uses intended as follows:

(a) As to each unit, a warranty for 3 years commencing with the completion of the building containing the unit.

(b) As to the personal property that is transferred with, or appurtenant to, each unit, a warranty which is for the same period as that provided by the manufacturer of the personal property, commencing with the date of closing of the purchase or the date of possession of the unit, whichever is earlier.

(c) As to all other improvements for the use of unit owners, a 3-year warranty commencing with the date of completion of the improvements.

(d) As to all other personal property for the use of unit owners, a warranty which shall be the same as that provided by the manufacturer of the personal property.

(e) As to the roof and structural components of a building or other improvements and as to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing elements serving improvements or a building, except mechanical elements serving only one unit, a warranty for a period beginning with the completion of construction of each building or improvement and continuing for 3 years thereafter or 1 year after owners other than the developer obtain control of the association, whichever occurs last, but in no event more than 5 years.

(f) As to all other property which is conveyed with a unit, a warranty to the initial purchaser of each unit for a period of 1 year from the date of closing of the purchase or the date of possession, whichever occurs first.

(2) The contractor, and all subcontractors and suppliers, grant to the developer and to the purchaser of each unit implied warranties of fitness as to the work performed or materials supplied by them as follows:

(a) For a period of 3 years from the date of completion of construction of a building or improvement, a warranty as to the roof and structural components of the building or improvement and mechanical and plumbing elements serving a building or an improvement, except mechanical elements serving only one unit.

(b) For a period of 1 year after completion of all construction, a warranty as to all other improvements and materials.

 

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.

HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATIONS AND COMMON LAW IMPLIED WARRANTIES

untitledThe Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Maronda Homes, Inc. of Florida v. Lakeview Reserve Homeowner’s Association, Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly S573a (Fla. 2013) has been a long awaited decision for both homeowners associations and home builders.

 

This case started when a homeowners association sued the home builder of the residential subdivision for common law breach of implied warranties of fitness and merchantability (also known as the warranty of habitability in the residential context) due to construction defects. The association asserted that infrastructure, particularly as it pertained to the storm water drainage system, was defective and was causing substantial flooding and other damage (e.g., severe soil erosion, damage to roadways, etc.).

 

The trial court entered summary judgment for the home builder finding that common law implied warranties do not extend to infrastructure, private roadways, drainage systems, retention ponds, or other common locations in a subdivision because these structures (or construction improvements) do not immediately support the homes.

 

On appeal, the Fifth District reversed the trial court holding that the common law implied warranties are applicable to the facts of the case. The Fifth District maintained that the common law implied warranties “have application to improvements to real property that not only support residences in a structural sense, but also apply to improvements which provide ‘essential services’ for the habitability of homes.” Maronda Homes, supra. Essential services for the habitability of homes include “roads for ingress and egress, drainage systems to divert flooding, retention ponds to correct water flow damage, and underground pipes (whether they be storm water or sanitary sewer pipes) which are necessary for living accommodations.” Id. In other words, the Fifth District held that the common law implied warranties apply to structures / construction improvements in a subdivision that immediately support the homes in the form of essential services. Id.

 

After the Fifth District’s holding, the Florida Legislature enacted Florida Statute s. 553.835 which it intended to apply retroactively (meaning the homeowners association would have no claims against the home builder in Maronda). This statute was enacted as a reaction to the Fifth District’s ruling to apply common law implied warranties to improvements that support the homes in a subdivision. This statute provided:

 

There is no cause of action in law or equity to a purchaser of a home or to a homeowners association based upon the doctrine or theory of implied warranty of fitness and merchantability or habitability for damages to offsite improvements.”

 

Offsite improvements were defined in the statute as follows:

 

“(a) The street, road, driveway, sidewalk, drainage, utilities, or any other improvement or structure that is not located on or under the lot on which a new home is constructed, excluding such improvements that are shared by and part of the overall structure of two or more separately owned homes that are adjoined or attached whereby such improvements affect the fitness and merchantability or habitability of one or more of the adjoining structures; and

(b) The street, road, driveway, sidewalk, drainage, utilities, or any other improvement or structure that is located on or under the lot but that does not immediately and directly support the fitness and merchantability of the home itself.”

 

Based on this new statute, the Florida Supreme Court needed to determine (a) whether the statute applied retroactively and (b) if it did not apply retroactively, do the common law implied warranties apply to structures / construction improvements in a subdivision that immediately support the homes in the form of essential services.

 

The Florida Supreme Court, agreeing with the homeowners association, held that (a) the statute did not apply retroactively, and (b) the Fifth District’s ruling was correct with their “essential services” test or standard to “determine whether a defect in an improvement beyond the actual confines of a home impacts the habitability and residential use of the home.” Maronda Homes, supra.

 

However, what the Florida Supreme Court importantly touched upon was the enforceability or constitutionality of Florida Statute s. 553.835 moving forward. Under this new statute, if the homeowners in Maronda sued today, its common law implied warranty claims would be barred by virtue of this statute (since its claims were asserted after the enactment of the statute).

 

An important portion of the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion provides:

 

“Article I, section 21 of the Florida Constitution declares the right to access the courts, stating that ‘The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay. In Kluger v. White, 281 So.2d 1, 3-4 (Fla. 1973), this Court interpreted the meaning of the phrase ‘redress of any injury.’ It held that where a cause of action exists under the statutory or common law of Florida, the Florida Legislature may not abolish that action unless it provides a reasonable alternative for redress of injuries, or demonstrates an overpowering public necessity for its abrogation and no other means by which to meet that necessity.”

 

Here, Lakeview Reserve [association] contends that section 553.835 violates article 1, section 21, because it abolishes the cause of action for breach of the implied warranties and fails to provide a reasonable alternative or demonstrate an overpowering public necessity for that abrogation. Maronda Homes…allege that although section 553.835 curtails the cause of action for breach of the implied warranties, it preserves other viable remedies that may exist in tort, contract, or by statute, such as negligence, misrepresentation, and rescission.

 

Section 553.835 violates the right of access to courts because it attempts to abolish the common law cause of action for breach of the implied warranties for certain injuries to property. In section 553.835(4), the Legislature establishes its intent to abolish some implied warranties by expressly limiting a cause of action for their breach by eliminating “offsite improvements for that action’s scope, even if such improvements impact the on-site habitability of the home….The statute even provides that the purpose of the law is to place limitations on the applicability of the doctrine or theory of implied warranty of fitness and merchantability, and to reject the decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the Maronda case. This is a clear violation of separation of powers because the Legislature does not sit as a supervising appellate court over our district courts of appeal.”

 

Based on this portion of the decision, a homeowners association that has potential claims for “offsite improvements” after the enactment of s. 553.835 may still have these common law implied warranty claims based on an argument that the statute violates constitutional rights. If the statute is determined to violate constitutional rights by trying to abrogate common law implied warranties, the association will still have to satisfy the “essential services” standard set forth by the Fifth District and approved by the Florida Supreme Court in Maronda.

 

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.