INSURER’S DUTY TO INDEMNIFY NOT RIPE UNTIL UNDERLYING LAWSUIT AGAINST INSURED RESOLVED

A liability insurer has two duties:  1) the duty to defend its insured; and 2) the duty to indemnify its insured.

With respect to the second duty – the duty to indemnify – this duty is typically “not ripe for adjudication unless and until the insured or putative insured has been held liable in the underlying action.” Hartford Fire Ins Co. v. Beazer Homes, LLC, 2019 WL 5596237, *2 (M.D.Fla. 2019) (internal quotation omitted).

For instance, Beazer Homes involved an insurance coverage dispute stemming from construction defects.  An owner sued its general contractor for construction defects relating to stucco problems.  The general contractor paid for the repairs.   The general contractor then sued its stucco subcontractor to recover the costs it incurred.  The subcontractor tendered the defense of the lawsuit to its commercial general liability insurer which is defending its insured-subcontractor under the commonly issued reservation of rights.

During the pendency of the general contractor’s lawsuit against its subcontractor, the subcontractor’s commercial general liability insured filed an action for declaratory relief in federal court seeking a declaration as to whether it owes its subcontractor a duty to indemnify.  The issue was whether this action for declaratory relief was ripe since there was no adjudication against the insured-subcontractor in the general contractor’s lawsuit against the subcontractor.   The Middle District Court of Florida held that it was not ripe: “The Eleventh Circuit agreed that an insurer’s duty to indemnify is not ripe until the underlying lawsuit is resolved.”  Beazer Homes, 2019 WL at *2 (internal quotation omitted)

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.

 

INTERPRETING THE LANGUAGE IN AN INSURANCE POLICY

Lawsuits by an insured against an insurer that include a claim for declaratory relief are common when an insurer denies coverage.   The insured will argue that there are ambiguities in the policy.  One argument may pertain to the use or definition of a term (or language) in the policy that is not defined in the policy. Another argument may pertain to an exclusion or limitation in the policy that ultimately renders insurance coverage illusory.  

 

 

[I]n construing insurance policies, courts should read each policy as a whole, endeavoring to give every provision its full meaning and operative effect.  When the language of an insurance policy is clear and unambiguous, a court must interpret it according to its plain meaning, giving effect to the policy as it was written.  A policy term is not ambiguous simply because it is complex or requires analysis. 

Arguelles v. Citizens Property Insurance Corp., 44 Fla. L. Weekly D1726a (Fla. 3d DCA 2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

 

When a term in an insurance policy is not defined in the policy (and there is an argument that there is an ambiguity), a court may look to dictionary definitionsId. (looking to dictionary definition of the term “reside” which was not a defined term in the policy).  This is because a dictionary definition contains a common acceptance of the meaning of the word.  Id.  

 

If a limitation or exclusion completely swallows up an insuring provision, then there is an argument that coverage is illusoryId. citing Warwick Corp. v. Turetsky, 227 So.3d 621, 625 (Fla. 4thDCA 2017).   “When limitations or exclusions [in the policy] completely contradict the insuring provisions, insurance coverage becomes illusory.”  Purrelli v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 698 So.2d 618 (Fla. 2d DCA 1997). 

 

It is important to work with counsel when dealing with an insurance coverage dispute.  Counsel will help you maximize insurance coverage based on the facts and the law.

 

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.