David Adelstein | Florida Construction Legal Updates | February 9, 2019
The duty to defend an insured with respect to a third-party claim is broader than the duty to indemnify the insured for that claim. The duty to defend is triggered by allegations in the underlying complaint. However, an insurer is only required to indemnify its insured for damages covered under the policy. A recent case example demonstrating the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify can be found in Southern Owners Ins. Co. v. Gallo Building Services, Inc., 2018 WL 6619987 (M.D.Fla. 2019).
In this case, a homebuilder built a 270-unit condominium project where the units were included in 51-buildings. Upon turnover of the condominium association to the unit owners, the condominium association served a Florida Statutes Chapter 558 Notice of Construction Defects letter. There was numerous nonconforming work spread out among various subcontractor trades including nonconforming stucco work. The homebuilder incurred significant costs to repair defective work and resulting property damage, and relocated unit owners during repairs. The homebuilder then filed a lawsuit against implicated subcontractors. One of the implicated subcontractors was the stucco subcontractor.
The stucco subcontractor’s insurer filed an action for declaratory relief claiming it had NO duty to defend or indemnify the subcontractor in the underlying action because the subcontractor had a stucco/EIFS exclusion through an endorsement in its policy, referred tp as the “Exterior Finishing System and Stucco Exclusion.” The subcontractor’s policy also did not contain a subcontractor exception to the “your work” exclusion.
Regarding the elimination of the subcontractor exception to the “your work” exclusion, the Court noted that the elimination of the subcontractor exception was largely irrelevant since the stucco subcontractor was a subcontractor so its work was not the entire project (unlike the homebuilder or general contractors’ work). Rather, the stucco subcontractor’s work was its scope of work and the underlying complaint referenced damages beyond the stucco subcontractor’s own work to other building components. Thus, based on the allegations in the underlying complaint, the “your work” exclusion was not a basis to deny the duty to defend.
Regarding the stucco exclusion, the homebuilder argued that the subcontractor performed work outside of stucco work and the underlying complaint contained allegations unrelated to the application of stucco including framing work, miscellaneous work, and wrapping the buildings. In other words, the Court did not have sufficient evidence that each allegation of nonconforming work related to the stucco subcontractor related to or arose out of the installation of stucco to trigger the full application of the stucco exclusion. Thus, this was not a basis to deny the subcontractor the duty to defend.
At this time, it is uncertain the magnitude of covered damages under the policy in light of the stucco exclusion and property damage resulting from the subcontractor’s defective work (certainly an issue to consider). However, the insurer owed the subcontractor a duty to defend based on the allegations in the underlying complaint demonstrating the importance of crafting allegations in the underlying complaint. The insurer’s indemnification obligation for covered damages, however, may be a different story and it is uncertain how a stucco subcontractor could have an endorsement that contains a stucco exclusion. Take a look at your policy and, particularly, endorsements that further restrict coverage to ensure you do not have an exclusion relating to your own scope of work that would negate the value of the policy to you for property damage claims.