It has long been the law in California that an insurer’s duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify and that the mere possibility of coverage triggers a duty to defend. Nevertheless, insurers still periodically ignore this clear principle and attempt to narrow the scope of the duty to defend. Recently, a Federal District Court issued a reminder to a wayward insurer.
In Pacific Bay Masonry, Inc., v. Navigators Specialty Insurance Company, (N.D. Cal., Sept. 16, 2021, No. C 20-07376 WHA, 2021 WL 4221747 (“Pacific”)), the Court was asked to assess whether a tender of defense by a concrete masonry subcontractor to its insurer for a construction defect action required a defense. Pacific Bay Masonry, Inc. (“PBM”) installed concrete masonry units (also known as “CMUs”) at a new retail shopping center in Oakland, California. The subsequent owner of the retail center filed suit against the general contractor for alleged construction defects, including “efflorescence of roof deck at CMU wall” and “improper waterproofing and flashing of the CMU block wall." The general contractor filed a cross-complaint against PBM.
PBM tendered the defense of the case to Navigators Specialty Insurance Company (“Navigators”) along with copies of a preliminary defect list, a description of defects, interrogatory responses and an expert witness damage analysis. Navigators denied coverage and a duty to defend citing to the work product exclusion of the policy. PBM asked Navigators to reconsider. Navigators held firm on its denial. Two years later, PBM filed suit.