Wisconsin Supreme Court Holds that Subrogation Waiver Does Not Violate Statute Prohibiting Limitation on Tort Liability in Construction Contracts

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Gus Sara analyzes the case Rural Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lester Bldgs., LLC.

October 21, 2019
Gus Sara - The Subrogation Strategist

In Rural Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lester Bldgs., LLC 2019 WI 70, 2019 Wisc. LEXIS 272, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin considered whether a subrogation waiver clause in a construction contract between the defendant and the plaintiff’s insured violated Wisconsin statute § 895.447, which prohibits limitations of tort liability in construction contracts. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the waiver clause did not violate the statute because it merely shifted the responsibility for the payment of damages to the defendant’s insurance company. The waiver clause did not limit or eliminate the defendant’s tort liability. This case establishes that while
§ 895.447 prohibits construction contracts from limiting tort liability, a subrogation waiver clause that merely shifts responsibility for the payment of damages from a tortfeasor to an insurer does not violate the statute and, thus, is enforceable.

In Rural Mutual, the plaintiff’s insured, Jim Herman, Inc. (Herman), entered into a contract with Lester Buildings, LLC (Lester) to design and construct a barn on Herman’s property. The contract included a provision that stated the following:

Both parties waive all rights against each other and any of their respective contractors, subcontractors and suppliers of any tier and any design professional engaged with respect to the Project, for recovery of any damages caused by casualty of other perils to the extent covered by property insurance applicable to the Work or the Project, except such rights as they have to the proceeds of such property insurance and to the extent necessary to recover amounts relating to deductibles of self-insured retentions applicable to insured losses. . . . This waiver of subrogation shall be effective notwithstanding allegations of fault, negligence, or indemnity obligation of any party seeking the benefit or production [sic] of such waiver.

Mr. Sara may be contacted at sarag@whiteandwilliams.com



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