Delaware District Court Finds CGL Insurer Owes Condo Builder a Duty to Defend Faulty Workmanship Claims — Based on the Subcontractor Exception to the Your Work Exclusion

Anthony Miscioscia and Laura Rossi | White and Williams

On September 7, 2021, in one of the few decisions addressing the scope of coverage for faulty workmanship under Delaware law, the Delaware District Court denied an insurer’s motion seeking a declaration that it neither needed to defend nor indemnify an insured-builder under a commercial general liability policy.

In this declaratory judgment action, Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company v. Zonko Builders, the insurer argued that the ongoing underlying action failed to properly plead an “occurrence” in a case alleging damages to a condominium caused by faulty workmanship involving subcontractors.* Zonko Builders (Zonko) served as the general contractor, supervising subcontractors. The Condominium Association sued Zonko for damages allegedly resulting from design and construction deficiencies. The motion was opposed by the Condominium Association, which cross-moved for partial judgment on the pleadings.

In AE-Newark Associates, L.P. v. CNA Insurance Companies2001 Del. Super. LEXIS 370 (Del. Super. Ct. Oct. 2, 2001), the Delaware Superior Court found that an insured was entitled to coverage for damages arising from a faulty roof system installed by a subcontractor on behalf of the insured general contractor.

Although the CGL policy at issue defined an “occurrence” as an accident, the policy also contained an endorsement providing that damages because of property damage to “your work” shall be deemed to be caused by an “occurrence” if the damage was performed on the insured’s behalf by a subcontractor. Nonetheless, the insurer argued that it owed no coverage because faulty workmanship is not an occurrence.

Relying on the 20-year old holding in AE-Newark Associates, as well as a number of out-of-state opinions, the Delaware District court in Zonko noted:“[w]hile we are mindful Delaware Courts have rejected a definition of ‘occurrence’ which includes faulty workmanship, we note no Delaware court analyzed the interplay of subcontractor exceptions and the term ‘occurrence.’” The court went on to explain that “if the Policy does not cover subcontractors’ faulty work, the Policy’s Your Work Exclusion need not specifically except subcontractors’ work. Such an interpretation contravenes Delaware law by rendering the Subcontractor Exception mere surplusage.” Thus, the court found that the Policy’s endorsement provided support to the fact that the definition of “occurrence” included subcontractors’ faulty work.

The court denied the motion as to the insurer’s duty to indemnify and dismissed the Condominium Association’s counterclaims, concluding that the Association lacked standing and the duty to indemnity issue was still unripe.

The Zonko opinion provides insurers with cautionary guidance that, in drafting an exclusion, an insurer may unwittingly provide an insured or court with ammunition to argue/find that the insuring agreement is otherwise broader than the insurer perhaps intended.

Exclusion for Construction of Condominiums Includes Faulty Construction of Retaining Wall

Tred R. Eyerly | Insurance Law Hawaii

    The exclusion for suits arising out of construction of condominiums encompassed the underlying claim for faulty construction of a retaining wall. HT Serv., LLC v. Western Heritage Ins. Co., 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 16259 (10th Cir. June 1, 2021).

    HT Services was a land developer. HT Services designed and constructed a residential community. The AOAO sued HT Services for negligent design and construction of a retaining wall. When its carrier, Western Heritage Insurance Company, denied coverage, HT Services sued. The district court granted summary judgment to Western.

    The exclusion eliminated coverage for claims or suits “arising out of, relating to or in any way connected with ‘your operations’ . . . involving the development [or] construction . . . of . . . condominiums . . . or . . . residential structures.” HT Services argued that a retaining wall was not a “residential structure.” 

    The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court. Because the retaining wall was constructed as part of the development of the residential community, the HOA’s allegations concerning defects in the retaining wall fell within the exclusion. 

    Coverage was also barred under exclusion j (6), which prevented coverage for property damage to “that particular part of any property that must be restored, repaired, or replaced because ‘your work’ was incorrectly performed.” The allegations of the underlying complaint asserted that the AOAO suffered damages resulting from HT Services’ “defectively . . . constructed retaining walls,” which were squarely within the exclusion. 

    Therefore the district court’s granting of summary judgment was affirmed and there was no duty to defend.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Confirms Carrier Owes No Duty to Defend Against Claims for Faulty Workmanship

Anthony L. Miscioscia and Marianne Bradley | White and Williams

On March 17, 2021, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued its decision in Estate Chimney & Fireplace v. IFG Companies & Burlington Insurance Company, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50360 (E.D. Pa. March 17, 2021), finding that an insurance carrier had no duty to defend its insured where the allegations in the underlying litigation involved claims of faulty workmanship.

Estates Chimney & Fireplace, LLC (Estates Chimney) had performed inspections and replaced chase covers for a number of chimneys in a condominium complex. Chase covers are pieces of metal, which are placed over chimneys in order to keep out environmental elements. Several condominium owners sued Estates Chimney, alleging that Estates Chimney had improperly installed, then improperly replaced, their chimney caps, which caused their chimneys to cease working properly. As a result, the underlying plaintiffs allegedly incurred costs to repair or replace the chimney caps and chimneys.

Estates Chimney sought coverage from its carrier, who denied coverage based upon its determination that the claims in the underlying lawsuits arose out of faulty workmanship, which did not result in damage to the property of a third party. Estates Chimney filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that it was entitled to coverage under the policy. Both parties moved for summary judgment, and the Eastern District ruled in favor of the carrier.

In reaching its decision, the court declined to consider the insured’s expert’s opinion, explaining that – under Pennsylvania law – courts “must decide coverage issues based on the four corners of the complaint against the insured, not the opinion of an expert, even if that expert opined that Estates Chimney did quality work that complied with all laws and regulations. This is a coverage dispute, the outcome of which cannot be decided by extrinsic evidence that addresses the merits of the underlying claims.” Id. at *17.

Having determined that its consideration was limited solely to the four corners of the underlying complaints, the court concluded that all of the underlying plaintiffs’ claims were for faulty workmanship, which do not present the degree of fortuity required for there to be a covered “occurrence,” defined in part as an “accident.” Id. at *17 (citing Kvaerner Metals Division of Kvaerner U.S., Inc. v. Commercial Union Insurance Co., 908 A.2d 888 (Pa. 2006).

The court further rejected the insured’s argument that – because some of the underlying plaintiffs may have sought consequential damages – the allegations in the underlying complaint constituted an “occurrence.” Id. Rather, the court explained that “the holding in Kvaerner has been extended to the foreseeable results of the insured’s faulty workmanship.” Id. Thus, because it was foreseeable that faulty workmanship when capping chimneys could lead to damage to the chimney itself, rendering the fireplace unusable, “there is no insurance coverage.” Id. at *16.

Finally, the court declined to find a covered “occurrence” based upon the insured’s argument that the underlying lawsuits involve “specific allegations of negligence.” Relying upon well-established Pennsylvania law, the Eastern District explained that it is the factual allegations, not the legal terminology used in the complaint, which determines whether a duty to defend arises. Id. at *18 (citing Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. CPB International, Inc., 562 F.3d 591, 598-99 (3d Cir. 2009)). Thus, faulty workmanship – even when cast as a negligence claim – does not constitute a fortuitous event. Id. (citing Westfield Insurance Company v. Bellevue Holding Company, 856 F. Supp. 2d 683, 694 (E.D. Pa. 2012).

Florida Appellate Court Determines Faulty Workmanship Exclusion in Homeowner’s Policy Is Not Ambiguous and Thus Damage Caused by Contractor’s Conduct Is Not a Covered Loss

Matthew Lewis | PropertyCasualtyFocus

In Saunders v. Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., a Florida appellate court recently determined whether a faulty workmanship exclusion in a homeowner’s policy applied to a property loss caused by a contractor.

The insured, Veronica Saunders, hired a contractor to install a new addition to her home, which was insured by Florida Peninsula Insurance Co. During the construction process, the contractor took off a portion of the roof and only covered the exposed area with tarps. The home eventually sustained damage from rainfall after the house was left in this condition for several weeks.

Saunders filed a claim with her homeowner’s insurance carrier, Florida Peninsula. The insurer denied the claim because the policy excluded losses caused by “[f]aulty, inadequate[,] or defective … [d]esign, specifications, workmanship, repair, construction, renovation, remodeling, grading, [and] compaction.” Following the denial, Saunders filed a declaratory action in Miami-Dade County seeking a determination of the coverage under her policy with Florida Peninsula.

Florida Peninsula moved for summary judgment based on its position that the contractor’s conduct, which caused the damage, was excluded under the faulty workmanship provision in the policy. In opposition to summary judgment, Saunders argued that the policy’s faulty workmanship provision was ambiguous because it could refer to either the faultiness of the finished product or the faultiness of the contractor’s process. As such, any ambiguity in the policy should be held against the insurer. The trial court disagreed and granted Florida Peninsula’s motion, entering summary judgment in favor of the insurer.

On appeal, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court noted that it would be inappropriate, as Saunders argued, to interpret the faulty workmanship exclusion on its own. Instead, Florida case law required that the interpretation of the exclusion provision be made in the context of the entire insurance policy. The court further explained that the meaning of a term within a policy should only be ascertained by reading that term in conjunction with the entire policy, which included the other terms associated with it.

In this case, the district court determined that because the term “workmanship” was listed between the phrases “design and specifications” and “repair, construction, renovation, remodeling, grading, and compaction,” it was meant to apply to both the faultiness of the finished product as well as to the faultiness of the process itself. Because the workmanship exclusion was not ambiguous, the loss fell under the provision and the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment to Florida Peninsula.

Florida Appellate Court Determines Faulty Workmanship Exclusion in Homeowner’s Policy Is Not Ambiguous and Thus Damage Caused by Contractor’s Conduct Is Not a Covered Loss

Matthew Lewis | PropertyCasualtyFocus

The Florida Third District Court of Appeal recently ruled that an insurer did not waive its right to appraisal after choosing to cover only part of a property damage loss claimed by its insured. The case, People’s Tr. Ins. Co. v. Farua Portuondo, No. 3D20-266 (Fla. 3d DCA Oct. 7, 2020), involved a property damage claim regarding alleged damage sustained to the insured’s home following Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

In December 2018, Farua Portuondo first reported roof and interior damage to his property insurance carrier, People’s Trust Insurance Company (“People’s Trust”). Following an inspection of the purported damage, People’s Trust agreed to cover only the interior damage and not the claim for roof damage.

On July 30, 2019, Portuondo filed suit against People’s Trust based on the insurer’s denial of coverage related to the roof damage claim. On August 26, 2019, People’s Trust demanded appraisal, as allowed under its policy with Portuondo, and proceeded with the appraisal process.

On September 16, 2019, People’s Trust was served with the lawsuit filed by Portuondo. Following service of the lawsuit, People’s Trust halted the appraisal process and filed a motion to compel appraisal, along with several other motions to compel related to the claim. The trial court denied the motion to compel appraisal. As such, People’s Trust appealed the ruling to the Third District Court of Appeals.

The district court reviewed the transcript of the hearing from the trial court and determined that the motion to compel appraisal was denied by the lower court because People’s Trust only provided partial coverage to the Portuondo claim. In support of the denial of the motion to compel appraisal, Portuondo had argued that People’s Trust waived its right to appraisal by choosing to cover only part of the loss.

The district court disagreed with Portuondo’s argument, holding that a motion to compel appraisal should be granted when an insurer has agreed to repair a covered loss, but the parties disagreed as to the scope of the repairs. The district court cited to a case it decided earlier in 2020, Baptiste v. People’s Tr. Ins. Co., 299 So. 3d 1148 (Fla. 3d DCA 2020), which involved the same policy language in a similar situation where the insurer and insured disagreed on the “amount of loss” and “scope of repairs.” Because People’s Trust did not wholly deny coverage for Portuondo’s claim, the district court held that the trial court should have granted the motion to compel appraisal as allowed under the policy.

In addition, the district court rejected arguments made by Portuondo that People’s Trust waived its right to appraisal by abating the original appraisal and filing the motion to compel with the trial court. Because People’s Trust did not “actively” participate in the lawsuit or engage in conduct inconsistent with its right to appraisal, the district court held that People’s Trust did not waive its right to appraisal. Once People’s Trust received service of the lawsuit, it merely paused appraisal and sought an order from the trial court to require the parties to go through the appraisal process.

The district court reversed the order of the trial court and remanded back to the trial court with instructions to grant the motion to compel appraisal.