Certificates of insurance are a common tool used in the construction industry to provide proof of insurance coverage. The legal effect of certificates of insurance has been a source of debate in Washington. Insurance companies have argued that certificates of insurance are “informational only” and do not alter the terms of the applicable insurance policy. Insurance companies have taken the position that if a certificate of insurance provides for coverage that is different than what the policy provides, the insurance company is only bound to provide what the policy provides.
The Washington State Supreme Court weighed in on this issue in an opinion issued on October 10, 2019, and held that an insurance company is bound by the terms of its certificate of insurance – even if it conflicts with the policy. In T-Mobile USA, Inc. v. Selective Insurance Company of America, Selective’s agent issued a certificate of insurance to “T-Mobile USA, Inc., its subsidiaries and affiliates” and stated that those entities were “included as additional insured” under the policy. The certificate of insurance was issued by Selective’s agent when T-Mobile’s contractor purchased an insurance policy from Selective for a cell tower project. The contractor’s agreement for the project was with T-Mobile Northeast – not T-Mobile USA. The contract between T-Mobile Northeast and the contractor stated that T-Mobile Northeast would be an additional insured. The Selective insurance policy stated that any third party would automatically be an additional insured if the contractor was required to name the third party as an additional insured. The contract did not provide that T-Mobile USA would be an additional insured.
A property owner damaged by the cell tower project sued T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile USA tendered the claim to Selective. Selective denied the claim because the contract between the contractor and T-Mobile Northeast did not require the contractor to name T-Mobile USA as an additional insured.