Don’t fall in the trap of buying the cheapest insurance policy.  It will come and bite you in the butt big time! Consult with an insurance broker that understands construction and, importantly, your specific industry, to provide you coverage within your industry.  Otherwise, you’ll be paying for a policy that may (i) not be a good policy, and (ii) may provide you minimal to no value for your industry’s RISKS and NEEDS when factoring in exclusions.  When procuring insurance, think of the old adage “penny wise and pound foolish,” and don’t make decisions that fit within this adage!

The recent decision in Nautilus Ins. Co. v. Pinnacle Engineering & Development, Inc., 2024 WL 940527 (S.D. Fla. 2024) serves as an example.  Here, a subcontractor was hired by a general contractor to perform underground utility work for a townhome development which consisted of 57 townhome units included in 18 detached structures. The subcontractor’s underground work was defective which caused damage to the property’s water line, sewer system, plumbing lines, pavers, etc. The general contractor was liable to the owner for this defective work.  Although the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s commercial general liability (CGL) policy, the subcontractor’s CGL carrier denied the duty to defend and initiated an insurance coverage lawsuit. Motions for summary judgment were filed.

The subcontractor’s policy contained an exclusion in an endorsement for residential construction operations that provided that the policy does NOT cover bodily injury or property damage:

[A]rising out of, resulting from, related to, or in any way connected with, either directly or indirectly, your ongoing operations, “your product”, or “your work” performed by or on behalf of any insured, either prior to or during the policy period, that is incorporated into or performed at any of the following construction projects:

a. Any new townhouse or residential condominium project where the total number of individual residential units is greater than twenty-five (25), regardless of the number of buildings, developments, phases or associations;

b. Any new residential housing project (also known as a Planned Unit Development (PUD) or tract housing), where the total number of “residential housing units” is greater than twenty-five (25), regardless of the number of buildings, developments, phases or associations;”

The term “individual residential unit” in subsection (a) was not a defined term. The contractor argued this lack of definition created an ambiguity which should be interpreted in its favor and against the insurer. The court disagreed and entered summary judgment in favor of the insurer.  The exclusion in the endorsement applied to BAR coverage. This meant there was no duty to defend and, thus, no duty to indemnify.

I. Evaluation of Insurer’s Duties under Liability Policy

An insurer’s duty to defend arises from the insurance contract and policy. Therefore, “summary judgment is appropriate in declaratory judgmentactions seeking a declaration of coverage when the insurer’s duty, if any, rests solely on the applicability of the insurance policy, the construction andeffect of which is a matter of law.” “An insurer’s duty to indemnify is narrower than its duty to defend and must be determined by analyzing the policycoverages in light of the actual facts in the underlying case.”

“Under Florida law, an insurance policy is treated like a contract, and therefore ordinary contract principles govern the interpretation andconstruction of such a policy.” As with all contracts, the interpretation of an insurance contract — including determining whether an insuranceprovision is ambiguous—is a question of law to be determined by the court.

“Under Florida law, insurance contracts are construed according to their plain meaning.” The “terms of an insurance policy should be taken andunderstood in their ordinary sense and the policy should receive a reasonable, practical and sensible interpretation consistent with the intent of the parties-not a strained, forced or unrealistic construction.” However, if there is more than one reasonable interpretation of an insurance policy, anambiguity exists and it “should be construed against the insurer.”

A coverage clause is generally interpreted as broadly as possible to ensure the greatest amount of insurance coverage. To determine the parties’contractual intent, a court may only consider the language in the insurance policy, unless the policy is ambiguous. “As a general rule, in the absenceof some ambiguity, the intent of the parties to a written contract must be ascertained from the words used in the contract, without resort to extrinsicevidence.”

Nautilus Ins., supra at *6-7 (internal citations omitted).

II. The Exclusion in the Endorsement Barred Coverage – There is No Ambiguity

The “failure to define a term involving coverage does not necessarily render the term ambiguous.” In Florida, when a term is undefined in aninsurance policy, the term is to be “given [its] plain and ordinary meaning.” To find in favor of the insured due to an ambiguity in an insurancecontract, “the policy must actually be ambiguous.” Therefore, the necessary determination is the plain and ordinary meaning of the undefined term“individual residential unit” in the Endorsement Exclusion.


However, in Florida, “exclusionary provisions which are…susceptible to more than one meaning must be construed in favor of the insured.’ ” Forcases involving exclusions to insurance contracts, this rule is to be read more clearly in favor of an insured if “ ‘a genuine inconsistency,uncertainty, or ambiguity in meaning remains after resort to the ordinary rules of construction” Therefore, “courts should not strain to findambiguity…if there is no genuine ambiguity, there is no reason to bypass the policy’s plain meaning.” Id. (citations omitted).


Consistent with Florida law, providing a “plain meaning analysis” for the term “individual residential units” indicates a thing intended for one person, existing as a distinct entity and indivisible whole (individual), to be used as a residence (residential) which is a part of a whole (unit).

Nautilus Ins., supra at *9, 10 (internal citations omitted).

Based on the plain meaning of “individual residential units,” the exclusion in the endorsement barred coverage:

[T]he Endorsement Exclusion bars coverage and therefore [the CGL insurer] did not breach.  Moreover, the work [the subcontractor] conducted wasfor underground utilities for the Project, the work was done for the Project, incorporated into the Project, and at the Property pursuant to itssubcontract with [the general contractor]. Therefore, [the subcontractor’s] work is also barred by the Endorsement Exclusion as § A.1.a. excludes “ ‘property damage’ arising out of, resulting from, related to, or in any way connected with, either directly or indirectly. . . incorporated into orperformed at” what this Court has determined to encompass the Project. The Subcontract establishes that [the subcontractor] contracted with [the general contractor] to perform work at the Property and that it agreed to perform work for the Project. Additionally, the Subcontract establishes [the subcontractor] assumed “entire responsibility and liability…for any and all damage…of any kind…growing out of or resulting from the execution of theWork provided for in this Contract.” Therefore, the record establishes [the subcontractor’s] work was conducted at the Property and performed at andincorporated into the Project and the Endorsement Exclusion applies to [the subcontractor]. [The insurer] has met its burden to show the absence of agenuine issue of material fact and, absent any viable affirmative defenses, [the insurer] is entitled to summary judgment.

Nautilus Ins., supra, at *11.

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


In an insurance coverage dispute, it is common for the insured or the insurer to file a lawsuit that includes a claim for declaratory relief — asking the court to render a ruling as to the coverage issue.  This claim is proper if an insurer denied coverage or a part of coverage relating to an exclusion or endorsement in the policy, or even if there is the argument that the loss or occurrence did not take place within the policy period.    An insurer or insured pursuing an action for declaratory relief must allege:

[1] there is a bona fide dispute between the parties, [2] that the moving party has a justiciable question as to the existence or non-existence of some right, status, immunity, power or privilege, or as to some fact upon which the existence of such right, status, immunity, power or privilege does or may de[p]end, [3] that plaintiff is in doubt as to the right, status, immunity, power or privilege, and [4] that there is a bona fide, actual, present need for the declaration.

Security First Ins. Co. v. Phillips, 45 Fla. L. Weekly D1426b (Fla. 5th DCA 2020) (citation omitted).

An action for declaratory relief is appropriate in an insurance coverage dispute even if it requires a determination of certain facts under which the obligations under the insurance policy at-issue depends.   Id.

If you are involved in an insurance coverage dispute with your insurer, consult with counsel.  Please contact me if I can be of assistance.  Do NOT try to navigate these waters by yourself.  There will be complicated factual and legal issues at stake that will be specifically tied to a coverage determination.  You want to make sure the facts are best positioned under the law to maximize an argument for insurance coverage.

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



shutterstock_363608708Oftentimes, insurance coverage disputes involve competing expert witnesses.  The experts render different expert opinions regarding a topic that goes to coverage and/or damages.  An example of competing expert witnesses can be found in the recent property insurance coverage dispute, Garcia v. First Community Ins. Co., 43 Fla.L.Weekly D671a (Fla. 3d DCA 2018). 


In this case, an insured submitted a claim under her homeowner’s policy for water damage due to a roof leak.  She claimed her damage was approximately $23,000.  The insurer denied coverage and an insurance coverage dispute ensued.


The insured’s policy, akin to many homeowner’s policies, contained exclusions for loss caused by:


h. Rain, snow, sleet, sand or dust to the interior of a building unless a covered peril first damages the building causing an opening in a roof or wall and the rain, snow, sleet, sand or dust enters through this opening.


i. (1) Wear and tear, marring, deterioration;


The insurer sent an engineer to inspect the insured’s property and the engineer (expert) opined that the water intrusion was not covered under the policy based on the aforementioned exclusions.  Her opinion was that the water intrusion through the roof was the result of deterioration from age, tree branch abrasions, and construction defects based on how nails were installed into the shingles.  Based on this opinion, the insurer was denying coverage based on the (i) wear and tear, marring and deterioration exclusion and (ii) rain intruded through the roof based on a peril (construction defect) that was not covered under the policy.


The insured, as expected, had a competing expert that opined that a hail impact or high wind uplift (covered peril) in the days leading up to the rain event caused water to intrude through the roof and cause interior damage.   Under this opinion, the insured was presenting an expert opinion for coverage and why the insurer’s exclusions were inapplicable.


In this case, surprisingly, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer.  However, this was reversed on appeal because the competing opinions as to coverage and the cause of the insured’s loss created a genuine issue of material fact.  Summary judgment cannot be granted if there are genuine issues of material fact.  See Garcia, supra, (“Given this conflict in the material evidence as to the cause of the loss, the trial court erred in entering final judgment in favor of First Community [insurer].”).


Another argument the insurer raised was that its engineer inspected the property within months after the date of loss whereas the insured’s expert is basing an opinion on an inspection that occurred three years after the fact.   This fact, albeit true, does not create a genuine issue of material fact.  Rather, it goes to the credibility of the experts at trial.  Which expert is more credible regarding the cause of the loss:  the insurer’s expert that inspected the property a few months after the loss or the insured’s expert that inspected the property years after the loss.  Well, the issue of credibility and how a jury / trier of fact weighs this in consideration of other evidence is not appropriate in determining a motion for summary judgment. See Garcia, supra.


Experts are an important part of construction disputes including insurance coverage disputes and it is not uncommon for there to be competing expert opinions as to the cause of a loss, a defect, and, of course, damages.   


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