The United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, recently took a close look at the application of a “controlled insurance program exclusion” (wrap-up exclusion) to additional insureds on a commercial general liability policy. In Cont’l Cas. Co. v. Amerisure Ins. Co., 886 F.3d 366 (4th Cir. 2018), the Fourth Circuit examined the interplay of an enrolled party’s additional insured status on an unenrolled party’s commercial general liability (“CGL”) policy with a wrap-up exclusion. The court applied North Carolina law and found that pursuant to the policy’s own language, the exclusion only applied to the original named insured, not the additional insureds.
Recently, in Vanacore Construction, Inc. v. Osborn, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 18068, 2018 WL 6579205, the 5th District Court of Appeal determined that a homeowners’ claims against a builder for construction defects bore a significant relationship to the parties’ construction contracts. Therefore, the claims were arbitrable pursuant to the broadly worded arbitration provision of the contracts.
If construction defect claims are not timely filed, Florida Statutes provide design and construction companies with a formidable defense. As a case in point, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge issued an Order granting summary judgment based on Fla. Stat. § 95.11(3)(c), Florida’s Statute of Limitations governing actions founded on alleged construction defects.
Prior to the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Robert Gindel, et al. v. Centex Homes, et al., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D2112d (Fla. 4th DCA Sept. 12, 2018), Florida courts had not directly addressed the issue of whether the mandatory pre-suit notice for construction defects under Chapter 558 qualifies as an “action,” pursuant to the statute of repose in Chapter 95.
Gindel v. Centex is a construction defect case for damages arising from the alleged improper construction of townhomes. On March 31, 2004, the Homeowners closed on and took possession of the townhomes constructed by Centex and its subcontractors. On that date, the statute of repose, section 95.11(3)(c), Florida Statutes (2014), began to run as to any construction defect, the expiration of which was ten years later. After discovering the alleged defect, on February 6, 2014, the Homeowners provided the Chapter 558 requisite pre-suit notice of defect to Centex. At the conclusion of the mandatory pre-suit procedure, Centex declined to cure the alleged defect. The Homeowners filed suit on May 2, 2014.
Despite the best safety practices implanted con construction jobsites, injuries occasionally occur during construction. If contractors are properly insured with workers’ compensation coverage, all contractors on the job site should be protected from tort liability via horizontal and vertical workers’ compensation immunity. See Fla. Stat. § 440.10(1)(e). Workers’ compensation immunity has been held to be extremely expansive in this context and essentially provides workers’ compensation immunity for all contractors on the jobsite as long as the injured claimant is covered by any contractor’s workers’ compensation policy. See Amorin v. Gordon, 996 So. 2d 913 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) (an example of how expansive horizontal and vertical immunity during construction can be).
In a recent decision, Valiente v. R.J. Behar & Company, Inc., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1277c (Fla. 3d DCA June 6, 2018), Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal (“Third District”) upheld the entry of a summary judgment in favor of a contractor on the basis of acceptance of the work by the owner, fortifying use of the Slavin doctrine. In Florida, “[u]nder the Slavin doctrine, a contractor cannot be held liable for injuries sustained by third parties when the injuries occur after the contractor completed its work, the owner of the property accepted the contractor’s work, and the defects causing the injury were patent.”
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida recently issued an order in Morette Company v. Southern-Owners Insurance Company,  where the Court addressed whether an insurer, Southern-Owners Insurance Company (“Southern-Owners”), had duties to defend and indemnify various parties against state court claims for property damage due to allegedly defective work performed by two of its insured subcontractors, Etheridge Construction, Inc. (“Etheridge”) and Wallace Sprinkler & Supply, Inc. (“Wallace”). Morette Companybegan in August 2008, when Little Sabine, Inc. (“Sabine”), the developer and owner of Margaritaville, hired Morette Company, Inc. (“Morette”) as general contractor for the Margaritaville project. Morette subcontracted work to Etheridge and Wallace. The terms of the respective subcontracts required each subcontractor to defend and indemnify Morette for all damages claims “occasioned by” the subcontractor’s work and to reimburse Morette for all expenses incurred, including reasonable attorney’s fees, as a result of such claims.
The situation is one all too familiar to construction defect litigants. A homeowner contracts with a roofing contractor to install a new roof with a life expectancy of ten years. After only five years, the homeowner brings a claim for construction defects in the roof alleging that the roof requires complete replacement due to water intrusion. The homeowner seeks damages for the full replacement cost of the roof. However, under a “useful life” theory, the homeowner would not be entitled to damages for the full amount of the replacement cost. Instead, the homeowner would be entitled to one-half of the cost of the replacement roof, taking into account the fact that he or she had been deprived of only five, rather than ten, years of use.
The concept of betterment has long been used by defendants in cases involving defective design or construction to limit the damages awarded to a plaintiff. The theory behind betterment is that: “if in [the] course of making repairs [an] owner adopts a more expensive design, recovery should be limited to what would have been the reasonable cost of repair according to original design.” Betterment is often raised as an affirmative defense, requiring a defendant to prove that the plaintiff has received a good or service that is superior to that for which the plaintiff originally contracted. A recent South Florida case seems, at first blush, to suggest the burden of establishing the value of betterments may fall to the plaintiff, although a closer reading indicates the decision is likely to have limited applicability.
Subcontractors beware — the “boilerplate” arbitration clauses in those standard-form subcontracts used by large scale homebuilders may be broader, and ultimately more costly, than you realize. It is not unusual for a builder to require a homebuyer to arbitrate construction defect claims. Likewise, it is not unusual for a builder to include within its standard-form Read More…