Why You Make A Better Wall Than A Window: Why Policyholders Can Rest Assured That Insurers Should Pay Legal Bills for Claims with Potential Coverage

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Alan Packer and Graham Mills - Newmeyer & Dillion, LLP

Unfortunately, policyholders, such as manufacturers and contractors, routinely face the unnecessary challenge of how to access all of the insurance coverage which they have purchased. Frequently, the most pressing need is to get the insurance company to pay the legal bills when the policyholders have been sued. The recent Iowa federal district court opinion in Pella Corporation v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company should help a policyholder in a dispute to require its insurance company to pay those legal bills sooner rather than later by highlighting that the duty to defend arises from the potential for coverage, and the insurer may not force the policyholder to prove the damage to obtain a defense.

In Pella, a window manufacturer purchased several years of insurance coverage from Liberty Mutual. Similar to many companies, Pella had many “layers” of insurance coverage in any given year. These layers collectively function like a tower. The general idea is that each layer provides a certain amount of coverage after the insurance policy below it had paid its money. The Liberty Mutual insurance policies provided excess coverage.

After the Pella window manufacturer made and sold its windows, it was sued in numerous lawsuits alleging that its windows were defective and that those defective windows caused a wide variety of damage to the structures in which they were installed. The window manufacturer tendered those lawsuits to its insurance companies in its tower of coverage, asking that the insurance companies pay its legal bills incurred in its defense. As to Liberty Mutual, the window manufacturer argued that the Liberty Mutual insurance policies were triggered, and so obligated to reimburse it, if a window was installed during the years that those policies provided coverage or if there was a mere allegation that a window was installed during the years that those policies provided coverage. Liberty Mutual opposed, arguing that the date of installation of the windows was insufficient to trigger the policies, and that the manufacturer was required to demonstrate the date that damage actually occurred to trigger a defense.

The key issue before the Pella Court in this decision was a simple one: which insurance policies, if any, issued by Liberty Mutual had an obligation to pay the window manufacturer’s legal bills? The answer to that question is critical and financially significant. Getting an insurance company to honor its obligations and start paying the legal bills as soon as possible is very important for a policyholder because of the cost of defending oneself in a lawsuit; often the key reason why an insurance policy is even purchased is to provide the policyholder with the right to call upon the insurance company’s financial resources to defend it should it be sued.

In a ruling that will be welcomed by policyholders, the Pella Court held that Liberty Mutual’s multiple insurance policies were triggered, and so obligated to pay for the window manufacturer’s defense, if one of two events occurred during the years in which those insurance policies provided coverage: (1) a window was actually installed during a year when the insurance policy provided coverage or (2) the window was alleged to be installed in the year that the insurance policy provided coverage. The Court agreed with the policyholder that once the windows were installed, property damage was alleged and “may potentially have occurred” from that point on, thus the policies on the risk from that point forward. The practical effect of this ruling meant that Liberty Mutual had to reimburse the window manufacturer for the defense fees and costs that it had paid.

While Pella was decided under Iowa law, the principles upon which it relied are similar to those applied under California law. Importantly, both California and Iowa law hold that an insurance company must provide a defense in response to a claim that is, or could be, covered by the insurance policy. The mere potential that the claim might be covered is enough for the insurance company to be obligated to pay for policyholder’s legal fees and costs.

Establishing that an insurance company must pay legal fees and costs as soon as possible allows a policyholder to save its own money. Why should a policyholder pay legal bills when it purchased an insurance policy as protection to ensure that it did not have to pay those bills? The answer is that a policyholder should not and, under Pella, the policyholder does not have to. Rather, the insurance company must start paying for that defense from a very early date. Pella confirms for policyholders the position that their insurance companies should pay legal bills earlier rather than later.

Alan Packer is a partner in the Walnut Creek office for Newmeyer & Dillion, LLP, representing homebuilders, property owners, and business clients on a broad range of legal matters, including risk management, insurance matters, wrap consultation and documentation, efforts to counter solicitation of homeowners, subcontract documentation, as well as complex litigation matters. Alan can be reached at alan.packer@ndlf.com.

Graham Mills is a partner in the Walnut Creek offce of Newmeyer & Dillion, LLP, representing clients in the area of complex insurance law with an emphasis on insurance recovery, construction litigation, real estate litigation, and business litigation. He regularly examines and analyzes a wide variety of insurance policies. Graham can be reached at graham.mills@ndlf.com.


For more than 30 years, Newmeyer & Dillion has delivered creative and outstanding legal solutions and trial results for a wide array of clients. With over 70 attorneys practicing in all aspects of business, employment, real estate, construction and insurance law, Newmeyer & Dillion delivers legal services tailored to meet each client’s needs. Headquartered in Newport Beach, California, with offices in Walnut Creek, California and Las Vegas, Nevada, Newmeyer & Dillion attorneys are recognized by The Best Lawyers in America©, and Super Lawyers as top tier and some of the best lawyers in California, and have been given Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review’s AV Preeminent® highest rating.

For additional information, call 949.854.7000 or visit www.ndlf.com.

California’s Right To Repair Act Is The Sole Remedy For Damages For Construction Defects In New Residential Construction

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Mark Johnson – Real Estate Litigation Blog

The California Supreme Court ruled in McMillin Albany LLC et al. v. The Superior Court of Kern County, (1/18/2018) 4 cal. 5th 241, that California’s Right to Repair Act, California Civil Code sections 895 et seq. (“Act”) is the sole remedy for construction defect claims for economic loss and property damages regarding new residential construction. The Act establishes a pre-litigation dispute resolution process that must be followed before filing a construction defect action for new residential construction purchased after January 1, 2003. The Act provides a builder with the right to attempt to repair construction defects before litigation is filed.

The McMillin ruling resolved a split among two court of appeal decisions regarding the scope of the Act: Liberty Mutual Insurance Company v. Brookfield Crystal Cove LLC (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 98 and Burch v. Superior Court [(2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1411. Those cases held that the Act is not the exclusive remedy for construction defect lawsuits that allege property damage arising from new residential construction. Therefore owners of new residential construction where construction defects had caused property damage were not required to proceed under the Act and instead could proceed with common law claims. McMillilin removes that option.

Reprinted courtesy of Mark Johnson, Snell & Wilmer

Mr. Johnson may be contacted at majohnson@swlaw.com

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Finding Plaintiff Intentionally Spoliated Evidence, the Northern District of Indiana Imposes Sanction

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Shannon M. Warren – The Subrogation Strategist

On January 23, 2018, the Northern District of Indiana issued a decision that clarifies what constitutes spoliation of evidence under Indiana law. In Arcelormittal Ind. Harbor LLC v. Amex Nooter, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10141 (N.D. Ind.), the defendant filed a motion for sanctions, alleging that the plaintiff intentionally spoliated critical evidence. The defendant sought dismissal of the action, asserting that the plaintiff intentionally discarded and lost important physical evidence within hours of a fire that occurred while the defendant’s employees were performing work at its facility. The decision underscores the importance of taking immediate action to properly identify and secure potentially material evidence in order to satisfy ones duty to preserve pre-suit evidence and avoid any spoliation defenses and associated sanctions.

In Arcelormittal, the court initially considered whether to apply state or federal law when analyzing a litigant’s duty to preserve pre-suit evidence and determine if that party committed spoliation. Since the case was brought in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction, the court held that Indiana state law governed the spoliation analysis.

As noted by the court, under Indiana state law, “the intentional destruction, mutilation, altercation, or concealment of evidence” is considered to be spoliation. Thus, under Indiana law, a party who knew or should have known that litigation was imminent “may not lose, destroy or suppress material facts or evidence.” The plaintiff argued that Indiana law requires a showing of improper purpose or bad faith to establish that a litigant spoliated evidence. The Arcelormittal court rejected the plaintiff’s argument.

Reprinted courtesy of Shannon M. Warren, White and Williams LLP

Ms. Warren may be contacted at warrens@whiteandwilliams.com

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States Push Rapid Growth of Microgrids

March 14, 2018 — Ethan Howland- ENR

California and Massachusetts are preparing to spend millions to support microgrid projects as the micro­grids—energy systems that can run separately from the wider grid system to protect critical facilities from power outages—are gaining steam nationally and worldwide.


Limited Fees Awarded to Insured After Partial Victory Over Insurer

March 14, 2018 — Tred R. Eyerly. - Insurance Law Hawaii

The Federal District Court, District of Hawaii, overruled the insured's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations awarding partial fees. Hanover Ins. Co. v. Anova Food, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEIXS 11493 (D. Haw. Jan. 24, 2018).

A prior post set forth the background of the case. In a prior opinion, the court denied pre-tender defense fees to the insured, but found there were genuine issues of material fact regarding post-tender fees.

Mr. Eyerly may be contacted at te@hawaiilawyer.com


Trump’s Tariff Is Forcing Homebuilders to Cut Costs

March 14, 2018 — Jen Skerritt - Bloomberg

For the past 18 months, Eddie Martin has been trying to find ways to keep the affordable homes he builds, well, affordable.

About 40 percent of the Texas homebuilder’s framing lumber comes from Canada. The Trump administration slapped punitive tariffs on Canadian softwood timber last year, claiming the industry is unfairly subsidized. The move has driven lumber prices to near record highs. Tilson Home Corp., where Martin is president, has so far refrained from passing on the added costs to homebuyers. To do that, it’s cut back the number of home plans it offers and is considering swapping pricier fir for cheaper Southern yellow pine, even though its tendency to bow in the Texas humidity makes it more difficult for construction crews to work with.


2018 CLM & Business Insurance Construction Conference

March 14, 2018 — Meg Scane – CDJ Staff

Mark your calendars now for the 2018 CLM & Business Insurance Construction Conference. The educational sessions will address many areas of the construction industry including construction defects, coverage issues, subcontractor issues, and risk management. Don’t miss out on this great networking and educational opportunity.

September 26-28, 2018

Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
540 N Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 606111

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New York Court Enforces Construction Management Exclusion

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP

In its recent decision in Houston Cas. Co. v. Cavan Corp. of NY, Inc., 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 1138 (N.Y. 1st Dep’t Feb. 20, 2018), a New York appellate court had occasion to consider the application of a construction management exclusion in a general liability policy.

Reprinted courtesy of Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP
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Connecting Construction Project Information: Open Technology Databases Improve Project Communication, Collaboration and Visibility

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Andy Kayhanfar - InEight

The construction industry has been plagued for decades with projects coming in over budget and behind schedule. There are many reasons this happens, but it ultimately comes down to just one thing – a lack of connected information.

Today, gigabytes and even terabytes of data are generated on a project and housed in different systems that do not talk or share information, which creates a closed approach and inhibits collaboration. Data is siloed and only accessible to certain companies, departments or disciplines, which gives each project stakeholder a very limited view into the status of the project as they are making decisions.

To be successful, the construction industry needs to free project data from closed systems. There must be a way to give all project stakeholders access to accurate information within the context of how it applies to the overall project that will empower everyone from owners to engineers to contractors to make timely, fully informed decisions that bring projects in on time and within budget.


The need for deep visibility into project information across systems and stakeholders has given rise in the construction industry to the open technology database. This approach enables project stakeholders to link the data in their existing software systems and connect that information into one centralized location. Project stakeholders can continue to use and maintain the data in their own systems while still feeding the information to the shared environment, which brings together critical project details, provides context for decisions and makes it easier for all parties to collaborate.

Project stakeholders are now able to connect business data related to estimating, cost control, scheduling, contracts, purchasing, accounting and more. This creates a common data set across the project that can be quickly accessed and can easily be put in the hands of project decision makers.

Innovative companies are taking this connectivity to a new level. They see the potential to use 3D models beyond simply the design aspects of a project and bring them into the activities of construction. Innovators are taking all the project information available in the shared environment and connecting it to the 3D model to create a comprehensive view of the project.

Reprinted courtesy of Andy Kayhanfar, Construction Executive, a Publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All Rights Reserved
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Insurer Defends Denial in Property Coverage Dispute Involving Marijuana Growing Operations

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Michael Levine and Geoffrey Fehling - Hunton Insurance Recovery Blog

Last month, we reported on the ongoing insurance coverage dispute between commercial landlord KVP Properties, Inc. and its property insurer, Westfield Insurance Company. The dispute arises from an October 2015 DEA raid on KVG-owned rental units in Novi, Michigan, which uncovered damage to the units related to the tenants’ marijuana growing operations. The arguments raised by KVG on appeal highlight a number of important marijuana-related coverage issues, which Westfield has now addressed in opposition.

Reprinted courtesy of Michael Levine, Hunton & Williams LLP and Geoffrey Fehling, Hunton & Williams LLP
Mr. Levine may be contacted at mlevine@hunton.com
Mr. Fehling may be contacted at gfehling@hunton.com

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Evacuations in Santa Barbara County as more Mudslides are Predicted

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Dave Suggs – CDJ Staff

Alene Tchekmedyian’s LA times article “Storm triggers evacuations in Santa Barbara County: 'Don't be fooled into thinking that this can’t happen again',” warns of the deadly potential of mudslides following the devastation that occurred in January that caused 21 fatalities and damaged homes in Montecito.

Debris flow could be triggered by rainfall rates predicted to exceed half and inch per hour. In some areas as much as seven-tenths of an inch of rain per hour are possible because of a chance of thunderstorms.

Mandatory evacuations began Monday to protect residents from the fast-moving storm that is predicted to be worse than January’s. Santa Barbara county officials asked that people help spread the word of the evacuation to everyone in their community. They also created an interactive map to help residents determine their risk level.

Matilija Canyon and North Fork in Ventura County are under voluntary evacuation orders. Areas at the highest risk include Thomas, Sherpa, and Whittier burn areas. Residents can find shelter at the Goleta Valley Community Center at 5679 Hollister Avenue.

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Why Is California Rebuilding in Fire Country? Because You’re Paying for It

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Christopher Flavelle – Bloomberg

After last year’s calamity, officials are making the same decisions that put homeowners at risk in the first place.

At the rugged eastern edge of Sonoma County, where new homes have been creeping into the wilderness for decades, Derek Webb barely managed to save his ranch-style resort from the raging fire that swept through the area last October. He spent all night fighting the flames, using shovels and rakes to push the fire back from his property. He was even ready to dive into his pool and breathe through a garden hose if he had to. His neighbors weren’t so daring—or lucky.

On a recent Sunday, Webb wandered through the burnt remains of the ranch next to his. He’s trying to buy the land to build another resort. This doesn’t mean he thinks the area won’t burn again. In fact, he’s sure it will. But he doubts that will deter anyone from rebuilding, least of all him. “Everybody knows that people want to live here,” he says. “Five years from now, you probably won’t even know there was a fire.”

As climate change creates warmer, drier conditions, which increase the risk of fire, California has a chance to rethink how it deals with the problem. Instead, after the state’s worst fire season on record, policymakers appear set to make the same decisions that put homeowners at risk in the first place. Driven by the demands of displaced residents, a housing shortage, and a thriving economy, local officials are issuing permits to rebuild without updating building codes. They’re even exempting residents from zoning rules so they can build bigger homes.

Reprinted courtesy of Christopher Flavelle, Bloomberg
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The General Assembly Seems Ready to Provide Some Consistency in Mechanic’s Lien Waiver

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Christopher G. Hill – Construction Law Musings

Back in 2015, the Virginia General Assembly amended the mechanic’s lien statute (Va. Code 43-3) here in Virginia to preclude any contractual provision that diminishes a subcontractor or supplier’s “lien rights in a contract in advance of furnishing any labor, services, or materials.” However, this amendment was only applicable to subcontractors and suppliers. For political and other reasons, general contractors in Virginia were left out of this change. This omission by the legislature put Virginia general contractors in the position of potentially being forced by project owners to waive their mechanic’s lien rights without the ability to run that risk downstream to their subcontractors and suppliers.

Reprinted courtesy of Christopher G. Hill, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill

Mr. Hill may be contacted at chrisghill@constructionlawva.com

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Homebuilder’s Stocks Entered into Correction


Property Insurance Exclusion for Constant or Repeated Leakage of Water

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — David Adelstein – Florida Construction Legal Updates

A property insurance policy, no different than any insurance policy, contains exclusions for events that are NOT covered under the terms of the policy. One such common exclusion in a property insurance policy is an exclusion for damages caused by "constant or repeated seepage or leakage of water…over a period of 14 or more days."

The application of this exclusion was discussed in the recent opinion of Hicks v. American Integrity Ins. Co. of Florida, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D446a (Fla. 5th DCA 2018). In this case, while the insured was out of town, the water line to his refrigerator started to leak. When the insured return home over a month later, the supply line was discharging almost a thousand gallons of water per day. The insured submitted a property insurance claim. The property insurer engaged a consultant that opined (likely, correctly) that the water line had been leaking for at least five weeks. Based on the above-mentioned exclusion, i.e., that water had been constantly leaking for over a period of 14 days, the insurer denied coverage. This denial led to the inevitable coverage dispute.

Reprinted courtesy of David Adelstein, Florida Construction Legal Updates

Mr. Adelstein may be contacted at dadelstein@gmail.com

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Protect Against Design Errors With Owners Protective Professional Indemnity Coverage

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Joseph Nawa – New Day Underwriting Managers, LLC

Prior to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the AIA Consensus Construction Forecast had predicted “slower growth for the construction industry for the remainder of 2017 and through 2018.” But, given the hundreds of billions of dollars in damages caused by these horrific events, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, estimates a lift to the economy through the rebuilding of these areas. This, of course, is dependent on insurer funds and the amount of aid offered through government sources.

Nonetheless, the process will be costly, timely and exhaustive. Under such circumstances, speed is a necessity. In addition to being drawn into the earliest stages of the project development cycle, the services of construction professionals have merged so intensely that even their “consultative advice” have produced exposures in “collaborative” environments rife with liability.

A challenge for contractors in today’s design/build marketplace is securing professional liability insurance policies that will not only manage the risks associated with their own errors and omissions, but also the problems caused by designers and others contracted to work on the project. However, this too is not very easy. Such policies when purchased by contractors can be exceedingly cost prohibitive.

Reprinted courtesy of Joseph Nawa, Construction Executive, a Publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. All Rights Reserved

Mr. Nawa may be contacted at joseph.nawa@newdayunderwriting.com

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Appraiser Declarations Inadmissible When Offered to Challenge the Merits of an Appraisal Award

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Valerie Moore and Christopher Kendrick - Publications & Insights

In Khorsand v. Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co. (No. B280273, filed 2/27/18), a California appeals court affirmed an appraisal award favorable to a homeowners insurer, ruling that it was improper to admit as evidence in opposition to a petition to confirm the award a declaration from the policyholders’ appraiser, except for the limited purpose of showing improprieties in the appraisal, bias, partiality or other improper conduct.

The homeowners had a pipe leak and submitted a claim. The insurer responded to an estimate from the owners’ adjuster by retaining an expert and paying an undisputed amount that was significantly less. Eleven months later the owners had upper deck damage and submitted another claim. Relying on the same expert, the insurer paid another undisputed amount significantly less than the owner’s estimate. The owners requested appraisal but the insurer denied the request, contending that the dispute was over coverage and outside the scope of appraisal.

The owners’ petition for appraisal was granted, with the court ordering separate listing of items the insurer disputed regarding coverage or causation. The appraisal panel issued an award stating that total damage was $132,293, of which $96,530 was contested by the insurer. The insurer filed a petition to confirm the award, which was granted despite the fact that the owners’ appraiser had refused to sign it.

Reprinted courtesy of Valerie Moore, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP and Christopher Kendrick, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP

Ms. Moore may be contacted at vmoore@hbblaw.com
Mr. Kendrick may be contacted at ckendrick@hbblaw.com

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Colorado Court Holds No Coverage for Breach of Contract Claim

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP

In its recent decision in Ctr. For Excellence in Higher Ed., Inc. v. Travelers Prop. Cas. Co. of Am., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25424 (D. Col. Feb. 16, 2018), the United States District Court for the District of Colorado had occasion to consider whether a breach of contract claim could qualify for coverage under a general liability policy.

Reprinted courtesy of Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP
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