Amandeep S. Kahlon | Buildsmart | August 7, 2018
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the application of Oregon’s anti-indemnity statute to a contractual indemnity provision requiring a sub-subcontractor’s insurer to indemnify the subcontractor for the subcontractor’s own negligence. In First Mercury Insurance Company v. Westchester Surplus Lines Insurance Company, Multnomah County contracted with a general contractor for the renovation of a bridge. The general contractor hired a subcontractor to furnish materials including reinforced decking. The subcontractor, in turn, contracted with a sub-subcontractor to manufacture the decking material. The sub-subcontract required the sub-subcontractor to indemnify the subcontractor for the subcontractor’s own negligence in causing damage to a third party—in this instance, the County.
After the project was completed, several defects in the bridge were discovered, including cracks in the decking. When the County sued, the subcontractor was found to have been negligent and partially liable for the defects and resulting damage to the County. The subcontractor claimed indemnity from the sub-subcontractor per the terms of the sub-subcontract, but the trial court refused to enforce the indemnity provision because it was void under Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.140(1). The relevant portion of the statute provides that any provision in a construction agreement that requires a company or its insurer/surety to indemnify another against liability for damage to property caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the indemnitee is void. Citing the plain language of the statute, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying indemnity.
The Ninth Circuit opinion serves as an important reminder of the variety of anti-indemnity provisions across the nation. Many states take Oregon’s approach and restrict the scope of indemnity provisions to cover only the negligence of the indemnitor and not the negligence of the indemnitee. Other states have more lenient anti-indemnity statutes or no anti-indemnity provision at all. Still others take a harsher approach than Oregon and impose stricter limitations in their anti-indemnity laws and may even have different laws for different industries.
When negotiating agreements for work outside your company’s traditional footprint, consider whether the state where the project is located has an anti-indemnity statute and how it is applied. Indemnity provisions in construction contracts can be exceptionally consequential in terms of allocating risk between parties, so it is essential to understand how such provisions will be applied and enforced in any particular state before executing an agreement and moving forward with a project in that state.