September 26th, 2017

POST-IRMA: ARE YOU COVERED?

By Justin M. Thomas, Esq.

Earlier this month, majority of Floridians experienced the passing of Hurricane Irma.  Unfortunately, the risks associated living in the state of Florida include tropical weather such as hurricanes and tropical storms.  In Southwest Florida, those risks and the ensuing damaging resulting from those risks are now readily apparent.  As the area and the state begin to recover, it is important not to forget about the steps commonly taken to insure against the losses associated with unexpected and catastrophic events, like Hurricane Irma.  Namely, insurance for real property, personal property and loss of business or business interruption.

Property/Homeowners’ Insurance

A large majority of Floridians have purchased an insurance product to protect their most valuable investment, their home.  In addition to insuring the structure from loss, the property contained inside is also likely insured up to a certain limit.  If structural or property damage was sustained, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Locate your insurance policy and read the coverages afforded under it.

 

  1. In the event of recognized damage, immediately place your insurer on notice of the loss.

 

  1. Document all damages to your home and property, as this will be requested from your insurer. Photographs and an inventory of damages are a simple way to keep track of the loss and quickly provide to your insurer when requested.

 

  1. Follow up with your insurer to make sure that your claim is opened and being processed so as to quickly begin the steps forward to recovering from this unfortunate event.

 

  1. If your property is in danger of sustaining further loss, seek the permission of your insurer to employ efforts to mitigate further loss.

 

  1. In the event that your insurer fails to respond to your attempts to initiate a claim or respond to your inquiries, contact the state of Florida Department of Insurance Consumer Helpline at (1-877-693-5236) and consider seeking the advice of competent legal counsel experienced with handling similar claims.

 

Commercial Property and Business Interruption Coverage

The losses associated with serious weather events, such as Irma, do not just damage homes and impact the personal lives of Floridians.  Mother Nature’s powerful force has unyieldingly damaged the property of Florida’s economic base of small businesses as well.  Commercial property insurance is the product device to protect a business’s real and personal property.  An additional coverage available for businesses is that of business interruption insurance. This insurance provides coverage to a business for the losses sustained due to the inability or reduced ability of a business operate in the event of disaster or loss.

While no business owner can forecast the future, those that have purchased commercial property insurance and business interruption are not without support to recover from Irma’s recently inflicted loss. The steps outlined above with respect to homeowners insurance will apply equally to a commercial property claim. In addition, consider the following:

  1. Identify all available coverages for both property and if applicable, inventory maintained by the business.

 

  1. Confirm the notice requirements in the policy in the event of a loss and immediately report the loss or potential loss to your carrier.

 

  1. Maintain accurate records of the events leading up to the disaster, during the disaster and following the event so as to be able to provide the insurer with the necessary information to evaluate and adjust the loss.

 

In closing, although the recent events associated with Irma have inevitably disturbed the lives and damaged the property of many Floridians, recovering for those losses from your insurer is one positive step towards returning to some sense of normalcy.

August 14th, 2017

INSURER CANNOT HAVE ITS CAKE AND EAT IT TOO: FLORIDA SUPREME COURT INTERPRETS “AT OUR REQUEST” LANGUAGE IN THE ADDITIONAL PAYMENTS PROVISION

By Meagan R. Cyrus, Esq.

As insurance policies changed from, historically, ones of indemnity to those of liability, insurers commanded a greater control over settlements and the defense of the insured in the third-party context. Logically, as the insurers would ultimately pay the price of the defense and indemnity, it follows that insurers would accordingly find such control necessary to protect their own interests. Notably, this control takes form in the commonly included “Voluntary Payment Provision”, barring an insured from unilaterally settling a claim.

The Supreme Court of Florida recently recognized this control over defense and settlement in its July 13, 2017 decision, in GEICO v. Macedo, No. SC16-935. The Court affirmed the First District Court of Appeal in holding that the Additional Payments section of the policy covered costs and attorneys’ fees awarded against the insured. Following an automobile accident, the third-party claimant filed suit against the insured and later served the insured with a proposal for settlement that was rejected. After a verdict was entered in favor of the claimant, fees and costs were also awarded pursuant to Section 768.79, Florida Statutes.

GEICO contended, however, that the policy did not cover the fees awarded in the underlying action, because the Additional Payment section only made reference to costs incurred by an insured at GEICO’s request.

ADDITIONAL PAYMENTS WE WILL MAKE UNDER THE LIABILITY COVERAGES

  1. All investigative and legal costs incurred by us.

. . . .

  1. We will upon request by an insured, provide reimbursement for the following items:

. . . .

(c) All reasonable costs incurred by an insured at our request (emphasis added).

The Court disagreed, holding that not only was the section ambiguous, giving rise to an interpretation in favor of coverage, but that such an interpretation did not account for the “Voluntary Payment Provision” in which an insurer has the sole authority to settle a claim on behalf of an insured. Therefore, GEICO’s interpretation failed to construe the policy as a whole. Wash. Nat’l Ins. Corp. v. Ruderman, 117 So. 3d 943, 948 (Fla. 2013).

Because GEICO, under the policy, had the sole discretion to settle the case, and failed to do so, it did not have to “request” that the insured accept or reject the settlement offers. Furthermore, the insured did not even have the option to grant such a request, as the Voluntary Payment Provision granted GEICO complete control over the settlement process. Accordingly, “[i]t follows that any cost or fee incurred as a result of GEICO exercising its authority and control is something that it intended to pay.”

The Macedo decision further emphasizes the control wielded by the insured in the context of settlement. An Insurer justifiably cannot choose to exercise its control over settlement and simultaneously argue that it is not in control.

July 17th, 2017

Builders Risk Insurance v. Commercial General Liability Insurance

By, Amanda K. Anderson, Esq.

 

Introduction

An insurance professional or coverage attorney may have experience in first-party coverage or third-party coverage, but often not both. When a mid-construction casualty like a fire or collapse occurs, the loss is likely to implicate both a builder’s risk policy – a first party coverage usually purchased by the owner – and commercial general liability (CGL) policies purchased by the general contractor and subcontractors.

  1. Different Types of Applicable Coverage
  2. Builder’s Risk Coverage

Courts have described builder’s risk coverage as “‘a unique form of property insurance that typically covers only projects under construction, renovation, or repair and insures against accidental losses, damages or destruction of property for which the insured has an insurable interest.” Vision One, LLC v. Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co., 276 P.3d 300, 303 n.1 (Wash. 2012) (quoting Fireman’s Fund v. Structural Sys. Tech., Inc., 426 F. Supp. 2d 1009, 1025 (D. Neb. 2006)). The policy pays only for damage to the construction project itself. Id. “A typical builder’s risk policy provides work site insurance on a building, renovation, or construction project for property as it is brought to the site and made part of the improvements on the property.” John V. Garaffa & Heidi Hudson Raschke, The Valuation of Losses Under Builder’s Risk Policies, Brief, Fall 2010, at 50–51.

Although builder’s risk policies are not standardized, they are typically “all risk” policies – meaning that they cover all direct physical loss to covered property, except where exclusions apply. Builder’s risk policies, with varying language, typically exclude loss caused by defective workmanship, but not ensuing loss from covered causes like fire. 4 Bruner & O’Connor Construction Law § 11:234; see, e.g., Vision One, 276 P.3d at 308.

The authority on builder’s risk policies is sparse, but there are at least two state Supreme Court decisions on the scope of the faulty workmanship exclusion. In Swire Pac. Holdings, Inc. v. Zurich Ins. Co., 845 So. 2d 161 (Fla. 2003), the Florida Supreme Court addressed an exclusion for “[l]oss or damage caused by fault, defect, error or omission in design, plan or specification,” with an exception for “physical loss or damage resulting from such fault, defect, error or omission in design, plan or specification.” Id. at 165. When a pre-occupancy inspection of a condominium revealed serious structural deficiencies, the project owner sought coverage for $4.5 million in corrective costs, claiming that the exclusion did “not exclude any costs for work that necessarily damages or destroys portions of the insured property as a result of required remediation or repair of defective property.” Id. at 164. Rejecting this argument, the court held that “[n]o loss separate from, or as a result of, the design defect occurred,” and that the owner was “not entitled to recover the expenses associated with repairing the design defect. To hold otherwise would be to allow the ensuing loss provision to completely eviscerate and consume the design defect exclusion.” Id. at 168.

In Vision One, 276 P.3d at 302, the Washington Supreme Court addressed the scope of coverage for a building collapse caused by defective shoring for concrete slabs. Shortly after the concrete subcontractor finished pouring the first section of the floor, “the shoring underneath the concrete gave way. The framing, rebar, and newly poured concrete came crashing down onto the lower level parking area, where the wet concrete eventually hardened. It took several weeks to clean up the debris, repair the damage, and reconstruct the collapsed floor.” Id. To illustrate the scope of the faulty workmanship exclusion, the court analogized the case to one where faulty wiring work causes a fire: “the ensuing loss clause would preserve coverage for damages caused by the fire. But it would not cover losses caused by the miswiring that the policy otherwise excludes. Nor would the ensuing loss clause provide coverage for the cost of correcting the faulty wiring.” Id. at 307. Because collapse was a covered peril, and because the framing, rebar, and poured concrete were not themselves defective, the court affirmed that there was coverage for the non-defective items damaged in the collapse – but not for the defective shoring. Id. at 510–11, 519–22.

  1. General Liability Coverage

In the event of a mid-construction event like a collapse or fire, the scope of coverage under a CGL policy differs from the coverage under a builder’s risk policy. The standard CGL insuring agreement provides that the insurer will pay “[1] those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages [2] because of [3] ‘bodily injury’ or [4] ‘property damage’ [5] to which [the] insurance applies.” Commercial General Liability Coverage Form (2013), Miller’s Standard Insurance Policies Ann. (7th ed.) (numbering added). Each of those five parts of the insuring agreement distinguishes a CGL policy from a builder’s risk policy.

First, the “legally obligated to pay as damages” requirement is central to the distinction between first-party and third-party coverage. The CGL coverage is fundamentally narrower, incorporating concepts of fault and legal responsibility that do not apply under first-party coverage.

Second, however, the “because of” language broadens the scope of potentially covered damages. Economic loss, standing alone, is not “property damage” under a CGL policy. Allan D. Windt, 3 Insurance Claims & Disputes § 11:1 (6th ed.). Nevertheless, the “because of” language means that a liable party’s CGL policy may pay consequential economic damages (id.), which a builder’s risk policy does not.

Third, in a catastrophic event like a fire or collapse, individuals may sustain “bodily injury” within the CGL insuring agreement. A builder’s risk policy does not pay for such bodily injury.

Fourth, the scope of “property damage” is similar, but not identical, to the risk of direct physical loss under a builder’s risk policy. “Property damage” is defined, in principal part, as “[p]hysical injury to tangible property, including all resulting loss of use of that property.” Commercial General Liability Coverage Form (2013), Miller’s Standard Insurance Policies Ann. (7th ed.). “Physical injury to tangible property” is similar in scope to “risk of direct physical loss” under a builder’s risk policy. Compare Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Pozzi Window Co., 984 So. 2d 1241, 1249 (Fla. 2008), with Swire, 845 So. 2d at 168. Nevertheless, there is a division of authority whether “rip and tear” damage – injury to undamaged property in the course of remedying an uncovered condition – can, standing alone, constitute “property damage.” Compare Desert Mountain Props. L.P. v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 236 P.3d 421 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2010), aff’d, 250 P.3d 196 (Ariz. 2011), with U.S. Metals, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Grp., Inc., 2015 WL 7792557, at *7 (Tex. Dec. 4, 2015). There is no comparable authority finding coverage for “rip and tear” under a builder’s risk policy. Moreover, “property damage” under a CGL policy – unlike loss under a builder’s risk policy – can include third-party damages, such as when a fire spreads to another property or forces nearby businesses to shut down.

Fifth, a CGL policy’s ongoing operations exclusions may apply more broadly than the defective work exclusion under a builder’s risk policy. Exclusion J5 applies to property damage to “[t]hat particular part of real property on which you or any contractors or subcontractors working directly or indirectly on your behalf are performing operations, if the ‘property damage’ arises out of those operations.” Commercial General Liability Coverage Form (2013), Miller’s Standard Insurance Policies Ann. (7th ed.). Exclusion J6 applies to property damage to “[t]hat particular part of any property that must be restored, repaired or replaced because ‘your work’ was incorrectly performed on it,” but J6 “does not apply to ‘property damage’ included in the ‘products-completed operations hazard.’” Id.

The most widely cited case on the meaning of the phrase “particular part” is Columbia Mut. Ins. Co. v. Schauf, 967 S.W.2d 74 (Mo. 1998). Schauf held that exclusion J5 “denies coverage for more than just damage to the insured’s work … by excluding from coverage damage to the particular part of property on which the insured is performing operations.” Id. at 77. During the construction of a new home, a subcontractor hired to “paint, stain, or lacquer all interior and exterior surfaces” accidentally started a fire while cleaning his equipment immediately after spraying lacquer on the kitchen cabinets. Id. at 76. Exclusion J5 barred coverage under the subcontractor’s policy for any damage to the kitchen cabinets, but not to the fire damage to the rest of the home. Id. at 81. However, Florida courts appear to have moved toward a more liberal interpretation of these exclusions. See American Equity Ins. Co. v. Van Ginhoven, 788 So. 2d 388 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001) and Essex Ins. Co. v. Kart Const., Inc.,
2015 WL 4730540 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 10, 2015). For other examples, see Allan D. Windt, 3 Insurance Claims and Disputes § 11:18A (6th ed.), and 4 Bruner & O’Connor Construction Law § 11:100. Thus, the CGL ongoing operations exclusions – unlike the builder’s risk defective workmanship exclusion – can bar coverage for physically injured property other than the defective work itself.

When it comes to evaluating a case’s settlement value, a CGL insurer faces the prospect of paying the cost of defending its policyholder in the liability action. An insurer for a subcontractor often faces a second set of defense costs – if the general contractor is named as an “additional insured” on the subcontractor’s policy, the insurer may also pay a share of the general contractor’s defense costs. Indeed, because many CGL policies limit “additional insured” coverage to injury arising out of the named insured’s ongoing operations, e.g., Weitz Co., LLC v. Mid-Century Ins. Co., 181 P.3d 309, 312 (Colo. Ct. App. 2007), mid-construction damage is more likely than post-completion damage to trigger an obligation to defend a general contractor under its subcontractors’ insurance policies.

  1. Particular Questions that Arise
  2. “Other Insurance” Clauses

A CGL policy’s “other insurance” clause typically states that the “insurance is excess over … (a) Any of the other insurance, whether primary, excess, contingent or on any other basis … (i) That is Fire, Extended Coverage, Builder’s Risk, Installation Risk or similar coverage for ‘your work.’” Commercial General Liability Coverage Form (2013), Miller’s Standard Insurance Policies Ann. (7th ed.). This clause has been held to refer “solely to first-party property coverage.” Colony Ins. Co. v. Ga.-Pac., LLC, 27 So. 3d 1210, 1214 (Ala. 2009).

It does not appear that courts have addressed the mechanics of how a third-party liability coverage and a first-party property coverage can be primary or excess to one another. But, as discussed in the next section, the more pressing question is the scope of a builder’s risk insurer’s subrogation rights after it pays for a loss.

  1. Risk Transfer

Effective risk management is an important goal in any contract negotiation, particularly when the parties’ performance under the contract exposes them to potential third party claims for bodily injury, property damage, and other alleged injuries. One tool in the bag of effective risk management is contractual risk transfer: the process by which one party transfers the potential liability from particular risks to another party by specific contract provisions. By effectively implementing contractual risk transfer and risk management measures, you can minimize your client’s liability to third parties, and you may be able to positively impact your client’s own insurance coverage profile.

  1. Subrogation

Even if a builder’s risk policy pays first, the builder’s risk insurer will then have a subrogated right to sue responsible parties. But, as a general matter, the “anti-subrogation rule” precludes an insurer from asserting a subrogated claim against a person who qualifies as an insured under the policy. 16 Couch on Ins. § 224:1.

A builder’s risk policy often will provide that various persons, such as contractors and subcontractors, are additional insureds “as their interests may appear.” Dyson & Co. v. Flood Eng’rs, Architects, Planners, Inc., 523 So. 2d 756, 758 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988). Some courts have held that this language triggers the anti-subrogation rule and bars subrogated claims against all such persons. Id. at 758–59 (collecting authority on both sides of issue); see 4 Bruner & O’Connor Construction Law § 11:200. The builder’s risk insurer can always try to seek recovery from responsible parties who do not qualify as its insureds – perhaps including architects, construction managers, engineers, suppliers, or manufacturers.

  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution

Disputes may arise regarding which insured holds the power to settle a builder’s risk loss. The answer most likely will come from the general contract, the terms of which typically are incorporated by reference into subcontracts. Standard language promulgated by the American Institute of Architects provides:

The Owner as fiduciary shall have power to adjust and settle a loss with insurers unless one of the parties in interest shall object in writing within five days after occurrence of loss to the Owner’s exercise of this power; if such objection is made, the dispute shall be resolved in the manner selected by the Owner and Contractor as the method of binding dispute resolution in the Agreement. If the Owner and Contractor have selected arbitration as the method of binding dispute resolution, the Owner as fiduciary shall make settlement with insurers or, in the case of a dispute over distribution of insurance proceeds, in accordance with the directions of the arbitrators.

Werner Sabo, Legal Guide AIA Documents § 4.65.

In some cases, it may make sense for the owner or the insurer to demand appraisal under the policy. A common policy provision states:

If we and you disagree on the value of the property or the amount of loss, either may make written demand for an appraisal of the loss. In this event, each party will select a competent and impartial appraiser. The two appraisers will select an umpire. If they cannot agree, either may request that selection be made by a judge of a court having jurisdiction. The appraisers will state separately the value of the property and amount of loss. If they fail to agree, they will submit their differences to the umpire. A decision agreed to by any two will be binding.

Builders Risk Coverage Form, Miller’s Standard Insurance Policies Annotated (7th ed.).

This language contemplates a two-party process between the insurer and “you” (i.e., the named insured). Thus, the insurer and the owner will select the two appraisers. Nevertheless, insureds other than the owner likely can submit materials to the appraisers and umpire for their consideration. Cf. 15 Couch on Ins. § 211:58 (appraisal binds other interested parties, such as mortgagees, if they receive adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard).

Although the appraisers cannot resolve questions of policy construction or conditions of coverage, they often can decide which items of claimed loss resulted from covered or excluded causes. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Licea, 685 So. 2d 1285, 1288 (Fla. 1996) (“[Appraisal] necessarily includes determinations as to the cost of repair or replacement and whether or not the requirement for a repair or replacement was caused by a covered peril or a cause not covered, such as normal wear and tear, dry rot, or various other designated, excluded causes.”).

Conclusion

Each case will present its own facts and contract provisions. In most cases, however, the builder’s risk insurer must pay to repair the portions of the property that have sustained direct physical loss, minus the cost of repairing the initially defective work that caused the loss. If the negligent parties are named insureds or additional insureds under the builder’s risk policy, the builder’s risk insurer is likely to face difficulty pursuing subrogated claims against their CGL insurers. But the CGL insurers face a broader set of risks and, if a case cannot settle quickly, the steep cost of defending their policyholders and additional insureds. A builder’s risk insurer, by contrast, often can avoid significant legal fees by demanding appraisal to resolve questions regarding the scope and valuation of the covered loss.

July 3rd, 2017

AN INTENDED ACT DOES NOT EQUATE TO INTENDED HARM: THE HIGH BAR EMPLOYEES MUST MEET TO UTILIZE THE INTENTIONAL ACT EXCLUSION TO BRING A CLAIM DIRECTLY AGAINST THEIR EMPLOYER

By, Ellen G. Smith, Esq.

Just because an employer intends that an act be done does not mean that an employer intended harm to come from that which would allow employees to avoid workers’ compensation laws.  Florida Statute §440.11(1)(b) delineates when an employee can seek coverage under the intentional tort exception in workers’ compensation claims.  Florida Statute §440.11(1)(b) states:

(1)       The liability of an employer prescribed in s. 440.10 shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability, including vicarious liability, of such employer to any third-party tortfeasor and to the employee, the legal representative thereof, husband or wife, parents, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from such employer at law or in admiralty on account of such injury or death, except as follows:

(b)       When an employer commits an intentional tort that causes the injury or death of an employee.  For purposes of this paragraph, an employer’s action shall be deemed to constitute an intentional tort and not an accident only when the employee proves, by clear and convincing evidence that:

  1. The employer deliberately intended to injury the employee; or
  2. The employer engaged in conduct that the employer knew, based on prior similar accidents or on explicit warnings specifically identifying a known danger, was virtually certain to result in injury or death to the employee, and the employee was not aware of the risk because the danger was not apparent and the employer deliberately concealed or misrepresented the danger so as to prevent the employee from exercising informed judgment about whether to perform the work.

In reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Turner v. PCR, Inc., 754 So. 2d 683 (Fla. 2000), the Florida legislature raised the bar in the enactment of Florida Statute §440.11(1)(b), from the previous standard of substantially certainty, to create an even narrower window where employees can avoid the immunity employer’s possess under the worker’s compensation laws.[1]  Not only did the legislature require that employees prove their case by the heightened standard of  clear and convincing evidence, but also created a standard where an employer must have deliberately intended the harm or where a harm is so obvious to occur because the harm has occurred before and will occur every time a that act is performed.  Since its enactment several District Courts have evaluated claims under the new heightened test, all of which have failed to meet the significantly higher standard created in Florida Statute §440.11(1)(b). See Gorham v. Zachry Industrial Inc., 105 So. 3d 629, 634 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013)(“[T]he mere knowledge and appreciation of a risk-something short of substantial certainty – is not intent.  The defendant who acts in the belief or consciousness that the act is causing an appreciable risk of harm to another may be negligent, and if the risk is great the conduct may be characterized as reckless or wanton, but it is not an intentional wrong.”); See Boston v. Publix Super Market, Inc., 112 So. 3d 654, 657 (Fla 4th DCA 2013)(“the statute provides an exceptionally narrow exclusion from immunity, requiring intentional, deceitful conduct on the part of the employer.”); See List Industries, Inc. v. Dalien, 107 So. 3d 470, 471 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013)(“The change from ‘substantial certainty’ to ‘virtually certain’ is an extremely different and manifestly more difficult standard to meet.  It would mean that a plaintiff must show that a given danger will result in an accident every – or almost every – time.”); See Vallejos v. Lanm Cargo, S.A., 116 So. 3d 545 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013)(“the failure to train or warn of obvious dangers does not amount to concealing or misrepresenting the danger so as to prevent [the employee] from exercising informed judgment”).

The Florida Supreme Court in Travelers Indem. Co. v. PCR. Inc., 889 So. 2d 779 (2004) relied upon the standing rule that “tort law principles do not control judicial construction of insurance contracts….Thus, intentional act exclusions are limited to the express terms of the policies and do not exclude coverage for injuries more broadly deemed under tort law principles to be consequences flowing from the insured’s intentional acts.”  at. 793; quoting Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Swindal, 622 So. 2d 467, 470 (1993). Intentional act exclusions are not a bar to insurance coverage for liability arising from claims brought under the objectively, substantially certain to result in injury exception.  Travelers, 889 So. 2d at 781.  The key distinction is whether the employer intended to cause the harm, not whether the employer intended the actionSee id.; Swindal, 622 So. 2d at 472 (intentional acts exclusion did not bar coverage where insured approached another with a loaded handgun, got into an altercation with that individual during which the gun discharged and severely injury the individual; insured testified he did not intend to shoot and cause harm to the person) (emphasis added); See Cabezas v. Florida Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co., 830 So. 2d 156, 160 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002)(intentional acts exclusion did bar coverage where the insured admits he intentionally struck the person behind him who he believed was an assailant); Cloud v. Shelby Mut. Ins. Co. of Shelby OH, 248 So. 2d 217 (Fla. 3d DCA 1971)(ruling that tort law’s “reasonably foreseeable consequences” rule has no application to insurance policies, and intentional act exclusion did not bar coverage where the insured intentionally pushed another car out of its way causing injury to a passenger in the car being pushed); Phoenix Ins. Co. v. Helton; 298 So. 2d 177 (Fla. 1st DCA 1974)(exclusionary clause did not bar coverage because the insured did not intend to injure others even though insured intentionally drove his car into a crowd of people).

The Florida legislature’s enactment of Florida Statute 440.11(1)(b) combined with the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Travelers makes clear that the legislature intends for employees to use the channels created in the workers’ compensation law scheme which itself was put in place to provide quick recovery for employees who are injured on the job and emphasizes that tort principles have no place in workers’ compensation claims.

[1] The Supreme Court recognized that an exception to employer’s worker’s compensation immunity existed in Turner utilizing a “substantially certain” to cause injury or death standard.

June 16th, 2017

Be Our Guest or “At Our Request”? : Interpreting the Additional Payment/Supplementary Payment Provisions in Requesting Attorney’s Fees and Costs

By, Molly Chafe Brockmeyer, Esq.

The Florida Supreme Court is currently reviewing the issue of whether the policy language “all investigative and legal costs incurred by us” and “all reasonable costs incurred by an insured at our request” allows for an insurer to be added to a cost judgment pursuant to section 768.79, Florida Statutes, the offer of judgment statute. See Order Accepting Jurisdiction, Government Employees Ins. Co. v. Macedo, No. SC16-935 (Fla. Oct. 19, 2016)(certifying as direct conflict and express and direct conflict).

In Government Employees Insurance Company v. Macedo, GEICO challenged a final judgment in an automobile insurance case holding it liable for a plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs after GEICO had rejected, on behalf its insured defendant, a $50,000 settlement proposal made by the plaintiff pursuant to section 768.79, Florida Statutes.  190 So. 3d 1155, 1156 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), review granted (Oct. 19, 2016).  Plaintiff succeeded in obtaining a jury verdict in her favor, receiving more than four times the amount of the proposal. Id. The plaintiff then added GEICO to the judgment pursuant to section 627.4136(4), Florida Statutes, and sought taxable fees and costs pursuant to the offer of judgment statute. Id. The trial court added GEICO to the judgment, making GEICO jointly and severally liable with its insured. Id.

The First District Court of Appeal, upholding its decision in New Hampshire Indemnity Company v. Gray, 177 So. 3d 56 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015), stated that GEICO’s policy with the insured gave it the sole right to litigate and settle claims, and thus contractually obligated it to pay for “all investigative and legal costs incurred by us” and “all reasonable costs incurred by an insured at our request.” Id. at 1156. The court further stated that the policy did not provide a definition of legal or other costs, nor exclude, for example, costs and fees awarded to a plaintiff driver pursuant to the offer of judgment statute. Id. Further the court restated its holding in Gray:

[U]nder insurance policies such as the one here, insurers enjoy the sole right to settle or litigate claims against their insureds; therefore, choosing to litigate is no different than a request … to do so. Any such expression, or request, necessarily encompasses incurring litigation costs, which may mean not only the insurer’s litigation costs, but also those incurred by the opposing party should that party prevail. It is the insurer’s choice to litigate—a decision only it can make—that results in these costs being incurred; thus, “those expenses [are] incurred at the insurer’s request.”

Id. at 1156-57, (quoting Gray, 177 So. 3d at 63 (internal citation omitted)).

However, the court, in certifying conflict to the Florida Supreme Court, recognized the conflict with the Second District’s opinion in Steele v. Kinsey, which held that the same language was unambiguous and that the words at issue here, “reasonable expenses incurred at our request,” can only mean that the insurer must request the product or service that incurs the expense. 801 So. 2d 297, 300 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001).

On October 19, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction. The appeal is perfected as of January 24, 2017, and the Court has dispensed with Oral Argument.

June 5th, 2017

Insurer Fails in Attempt to Escape Its Obligation to Pay An Insureds Attorneys’ Fees Under §627.428, Florida Statutes

By, Justin M. Thomas, Esq.

In W&J Group Enterprises, Inc. v. Houston Specialty Ins. Co., the insureds, W&J, appealed an order denying their motion for attorney’s fees under section 627.428, Florida Statutes, following a settlement that was comprised of $650,000.00 payment from the insurer and $3,000.00 paid by the insured.  2017 WL 1279045 (11th Cir. April 6, 2017) (Unpublished).  Florida has extended the statutory entitlement to attorney’s fees under section 627.428, Florida Statutes, to apply beyond the obtaining of a judgment by an insured against an insurer. Such entitlement also applies under a theory referred to as the “confession of judgment rule” which arises based on the conduct of an insurer prior to a judgment.  See Wollard v. Lloyd’s & Cos. of Lloyd’s, 439 So.2d 217, 218-19 (Fla. 1983).

Though Wollard involved a first-party coverage dispute, Florida’s intermediate appellate courts have expanded the “confession of judgment rule” to the third-party context.  E.g., Mercury Ins. Co. of Fla. v. Cooper, 919 So. 2d 491 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2005); Unterlack v. Westport Ins. Co., 901 So.2d 387 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005); O’Malley v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 890 So.2d 1163 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004).  CooperUnterlack and O’Malley all stand for the principle that when an insurer settles a third-party liability claim, which is contrary to the coverage position taken by the insurer against its insured, the result amounts to a confession of judgment sufficient to trigger the operation of entitlement under §627.428, Fla. Stat., for the insureds to recover their attorneys’ fees.

Interestingly, in the face of the foregoing decisions, the insurer, Houston Specialty Ins. Co. (“HSIC”), advanced the position that the court’s use of the word unilateral in Cooper was to be viewed in such a manner as to limit the confession of judgment theory to only those circumstances when it is solely the insurer who contributes to the settlement.  W&J Group at 2.  The court recognized HSIC’s position as inconsistent with the progeny of cases recognizing confessions of judgment in the third-party context.  Id.  The crux of the court’s holding was twofold.  First, an insured’s contribution to the settlement was so infinitesimal that it was insufficient to meaningfully constitute a basis to depart from the sound reasoning in Cooper, Untlerlack and O’MalleyId. at 3.  Second, to take HSIC’s position all the way through to its logical conclusion would require that the insured reject the facially reasonable settlement for purposes of preserving its rights under section 627.428, Florida Statutes.  Id.  Such a requirement, as the Court recognized, flies directly in the face of the intent of the statute and the policy concerns that have been previously discussed by the Florida Supreme Court.  Id.  After all, the instant statute exists to provide an avenue to level the playing field between insurers and insureds.

The takeaway seems to leave a sense of the pro-policy holder stance that has long been recognized in Florida jurisprudence.  Notably, however, one cannot help but wonder what effect that this decision will have on settlement positioning in the frequent dynamic of liability actions with the commonly filed companion coverage litigation.

May 16th, 2017

Additional Insured Authorized to Sue for Bad Faith under South Carolina Law

By, Mark A. Boyle, Esq.

Under the law of South Carolina, a tort action for an insurer’s bad faith refusal to pay benefits does not extend to third parties who are not insureds under the policy. Kleckley v. Nw. Nat. Cas. Co., 526 S.E.2d 218, 219 (S.C. 2000). The South Carolina Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether a party who is not a named insured, but is an additional insured, is entitled to proceed in bad faith against an insurer which fails to honor its obligations under the insurance contract. In UFP Eastern Division, Inc. vs. Selective Insurance Company of South Carolina, 2017 WL499083 (SDSC 2017) the Court held that South Carolina law does permit an additional insured to bring a claim for bad faith. In so doing the Court noted:

“The South Carolina Court of Appeals addressed an additional insured’s bad faith claim in BMW of N. Am.,LLC v. Complete Auto Recon Services, Inc., 731 S.E.2d 902, 907 (S.C. Ct. App. 2012). The Court of Appeals held that defendant Colony Insurance Company was entitled to summary judgment on the bad faith claim brought by BMW, an additional insured under a policy issued by defendant, because the subject matter of the claim was not covered by the insurance agreement. There is no suggestion that BMW lacked standing to bring a bad faith claim against Colony Insurance at all. Further, this Court can discern no apparent reason why a party identified as an insured in the insurance contract should not be able to bring a bad faith claim regarding the handling of its claim for insurance benefits brought under the insurance contract. The many cases Selective cites to support its position are inapposite because they concern claims by third-party tort victims suing tortfeasors’ liability providers for coverage of underlying tort claims, not additional-insured tortfeasors suing their own insurers for breach of contract.”

Certainly, the ability of an additional insured to bring a bad faith claim should represent a powerful legal deterrent to insurers shirking their obligation to defend additional insureds under South Carolina Law.

“Mend the Hold”

By, Alex Brockmeyer, Esq.

“Mend the hold.” The phrase originates from wrestling parlance where it meant “to get a better grip (hold) on your opponent.” Harbor Ins. Co. v. Continental Bank Corp., 922 F. 2d 357, 362 (7th Cir. 1990). The first appearance of the phrase in a judicial opinion occurred in a case where the Supreme Court held a party in a contract suit could not justify its nonperformance with a defense it did not raise prior to the commencement of litigation:

[w]here a party gives a reason for his conduct and decision touching any thing involved in a controversy, he cannot, after litigation has begun, change his ground, and put his conduct upon another and a different consideration. He is not permitted thus to mend his hold. He is estopped from doing it by a settled principle of law.

Railway Co. v. McCarthy, 96 U.S. 258, 267-68 (1877). Estoppel and waiver form the underlying basis for this doctrine, which at its most basic level precludes a party from changing its defense to performance of a contract in the middle of litigation. E.g. Baquero v. Lancet Indem. Risk Retention Group, Inc., 2013 WL 5237740, *6 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 17, 2013) (citing Harbor Ins. Co. v. Continental Bank Corp., 922 F. 2d 357, 362-65 (7th Cir. 1990)).

The “mend the hold” doctrine is particularly suited for insurance disputes where an insurer changes its reason for denying a claim. Id. In fact, some commentators have observed that courts have expressed a willingness to apply the “mend the hold” doctrine out of “an intolerance for insurers to adjust legal positions like chameleons adjust their color.” Michael Laurato, Mending the Hold in Florida: Getting a Better Grip on an Old Insurance Doctrine, 4 FLA. A&M U. L. REV. 73, 74 (2009) (citing Eugene R. Anderson & Nadia V. Holober, Preventing Inconsistencies in Litigation With a Spotlight on Insurance Coverage Litigation: The Doctrines of Judicial Estoppel, Equitable Estoppel, Quasi-Estoppel, Collateral Estoppel, “Mend the Hold,” “Fraud on the Court,” and Judicial and Evidentiary Admissions, 4 CONN. INS. L.J. 589, 692 (1997-98)).

Application of the doctrine has yielded two approaches. Robert Stikoff, “Mend the Hold” and Erie: Why an Obscure Contracts Doctrine Should Control in Federal Diversity Cases, 65 U. CHI. L. REV. 1059, 1059-60 (1998). The minority approach precludes a party from changing its position during litigation from its pre-suit position absent a good faith justification for the change in position. Id. at 1062-71. The majority approach limits the nonperforming party’s defenses in litigation to those provided pre-suit at the time it refused to perform. Id.

Florida follows a version of the majority approach. To apply the “mend the hold” doctrine in Florida, it appears that a party to contract must prove: (1) the insured detrimentally relied on the insurer’s conduct; and (2) the insurer had sufficient information at the time of its initial denial to have waived the additional defense it seeks to assert during litigation. Trovillion Const. & Development, Inc. v. Mid-Continent Cas. Co., 2014 WL 201678, *9 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 17, 2014); Square at Key Biscayne Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 2014 WL 11946882, *4 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 15, 2014); Baquero, 2013 WL 5237740 at *6 Principal Life Ins. Co. v. Alvarez, 2011 WL 4102327, *6-7 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 14, 2011). Application of this doctrine also appears to be limited to instances where an insurer seeks a forfeiture of the policy as opposed to invoking a policy exclusion. Square at Key Biscayne, 2014 WL 11946882 at *4. The conclusion reached by these courts stems from Florida’s intermediate appellate courts utilizing estoppel and waiver principles in determining whether to permit insurers to engage in the very conduct prohibited by the “mend the hold doctrine.” See Salcedo v. Asociacion Cubana, Inc., 368 So. 2d 1337, 1339 (Fla. 3d DCA 1979) (citing McCarthy, 96 U.S. at 268); see also American States Ins. Co. v. McGuire, 510 So. 2d 1227 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987); Six L’s Packing Co., Inc. v. Fla. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 268 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972).

As such, it appears the “mend the hold” doctrine has limited applicability. One such area where the doctrine seems particularly applicable is where an insurer attempts to invoke a condition precedent—such as a proof of loss or prompt notice of a loss—during litigation after not raising the issue pre-suit. Allstate Floridian Ins. Co. v. Farmer, 104 So. 3d 1242, 1246-50 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012). Failure to comply with a condition precedent results in a forfeiture of the policy. Id. at 1249-50. An insurer will certainly be able to raise these conditional defenses pre-suit and would know of an insured’s failure to comply with any condition precedent set forth in the policy. Finally, the insured’s detrimental reliance on its insurer’s failure to raise the condition precedent is easy: the insured relies on the insurer’s failure to raise the condition precedent pre-suit in determining its ability to file suit.

April 21st, 2017

Policy Interpretation

By, Meagan R. Cyrus

It is well established in Florida that ambiguities in policy language are to be strictly construed against the insurer, and in favor of broader coverage for the insured. Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Anderson, 756 So. 2d 29, 34 (Fla. 2000). The Florida Supreme Court further expanded on this notion in Washington Nat’l Ins. Corp. v. Ruderman, 117 So. 3d 943 (Fla. 2013), again ruling in favor of policyholders, finding that insurers could not clarify an ambiguity through the use of extrinsic evidence. However, prior to the court’s determination as to the ambiguity of the language at issue, can extrinsic evidence be used to the advantage of the insured? The answer is possibly, and depending on the jurisdiction.

Interpretive and drafting history materials in the hands of the insurer can show that an insured’s interpretation is a reasonable one, creating ambiguity. It is difficult for an insurer to argue against an alternative interpretation that it itself considered in the writing of the policy. This battle is won at the discovery stage. The Middle District ruled in favor of the insurer on this issue, finding that an insured’s request for documents used to interpret the meaning of the policy were irrelevant to coverage issues, relying on Ruderman. Evanston Ins. Co. v. Frank’s Lab., Inc., No. 5:12–cv–603–Oc–UAMHPRL, 2013 WL 5556225, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 8, 2013). The Southern District, however, decided conversely, granting an insured’s discovery request for such materials: “[c]ontrary to [insurer’s] position, drafting history and extrinsic evidence of interpretive materials is discoverable at this early stage of the litigation when questions concerning ambiguity have not been resolved.” Viking Yacht Co. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 07-80341-CIV-Marra/Johnson, 2008 WL 8715540, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 7, 2008).

The relevant inquiry at issue as to the discoverability and consideration of interpretative and drafting materials is whether or not the court has determined the policy to be ambiguous. If not, such materials are often crucial for an insured to prove an argument for reasonableness of interpretation. This is distinguishable from Ruderman, in which the court had made a determination of ambiguity, and the insurer sought to refute that finding.

April 20th, 2017

Fabre Defendants – Does A Defendant Want To Invite Invisible Men Into Their Courtroom?

By, Ellen G. Smith, Esq.

We have all heard of the elephant in the room, but what about the invisible man in the courtroom?  That invisible man is also known as the Fabre defendant.  See Fabre v. Marin, 623 So. 2d 1182 (Fla. 1993).  The Fabre defendant is a very important player at trial when dealing with multi-party and/or multi-defendant litigation.

The Fabre defendant usually arises when one or more parties settle in a case before trial, leaving other defendants remaining in the litigation and at trial. These remaining parties at trial then get to point their finger at the settled parties saying “they did it” either wholly or partially.  The burden is on the remaining defendant(s) to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the Fabre defendant(s) are at fault.  However, the decision of including or not including Fabre defendants can have a big impact on findings or economic and noneconomic damages.

The Wells v. Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center, Inc., 659 So. 2d 249, 253-53 (Fla. 1995) opinion, after the enactment of the three setoff statutes and section 768.81, clarifies that “the setoff statutes do not apply to noneconomic damages for which defendants are only severally liable pursuant to section 768.81(3), but held that the setoff statutes continue to apply to economic damages for which parties continue to be subject to joint and several liability. D’Angelo v. Fitzmaurice, 863 So. 2d 311, 314 (Fla. 2003), citing Wells, 659 So. 2d at 253.

Two cases since the Fabre case should cause remaining defendants to take pause and consider whether or not to include a settled out or nonparty defendant(s) on a verdict form.  In particular, the Supreme Court decision in Gouty v. Schnepel, 795 So. 2d 959 (Fla. 2001) provides an important distinction for a Fabre defendant who is found not liable (on the verdict form with a 0% liability verdict) versus a Fabre defendant not found liable (not included on the verdict form, so no liability verdict is determined). In Gouty, the plaintiff sued a gun owner and a gun manufacturer after being injured. Id. at 960. Prior to trial, the plaintiff settled with the gun manufacturer.  Id.  At trial, the jury found the gun owner 100% at fault, and attributed 0% of the fault to the gun manufacturer. Id. After trial, the gun owner sought to reduce the jury verdict of economic damages by the amount of settlement paid by the gun manufacturer. Id. The Court explained “that the setoff provisions, which were enacted before section 768.81, presuppose the existence of multiple defendants jointly liable for the same damages.” Id. at 963, quoting Wells, 659 So. 2d at 252-53 (Fla. 1995).  Thus, the Court held that a defendant who is found solely liable does not receive a setoff because the parties are not joint tortfeasors. Gouty, 795 So. 2d at 965.  The setoff statutes only apply where multiple defendants are liable for the same injury, thus if one defendant is found not liable, the two defendants are not liable for the same injury. See id. Here, the catch is if the gun owner had not listed the gun manufacturer as a Fabre defendant then the gun owner would have received a setoff of the settlement amount for economic damages to prevent the plaintiff from receiving a double recovery.

Furthermore, this point is emphasized in the D’Angelo holding.  The plaintiffs, the Fitzmaurices, sued the doctor who allegedly left a laparotomy pad inside the plaintiff, Mr. Fitzmaurice, during an appendectomy. D’Angelo, 863 So. 2d at 312.  Prior to trial, the plaintiffs settled with the medical center where the surgery took place. Id. At trial, only the doctor was listed on the verdict form, and the jury did not make a determination as to the medical center’s liability or apportion fault.  Id. at 313. The jury awarded damages to the plaintiffs. Id.  The doctor then sought a setoff of the economic damages for the settlement reached between the plaintiffs and the hospital. Id. The trial court granted the doctors motion and reduced the economic damages but refused to reduce the noneconomic damages. Id. On appeal, the court explained that “[u]nlike noneconomic damages, or which section 768.81 eliminated joint and several liability, the setoff statues continue to apply to economic damages for which parties continue to be subject to joint and several liability.” Id. at 316.

Thus the important take home from Wells, Gouty and D’Angelo is that if a defendant wants a reduction for non-economic damages then that defendant must list the settled out defendant(s) as Fabre defendants on the verdict form and prove their fault.  However, the economic damages, based on the setoff statues, does allow a set-off of economic damages even if a nonparty defendant is not found liable.

Based on these rulings, a defendant who faces trial leaving behind settled out parties need to carefully consider whether or not to include these settled out defendants and have them be the invisible men in the court room.  On one hand, the noneconomic damages award might be reduced if the Fabre defendants are apportioned fault.  On the other hand, if the jury finds the Fabre defendants not liable, then the defendant not only receives 100% of the noneconomic damages but also will not receive a set-off of the economic damages.

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