Texas Construction Injury Leads Court to Analyze Duty to Defend, Indemnify

Construction worksite accidents are common occurrences in New Orleans and Louisiana. When a lawsuit is filed seeking compensation for these workplace injuries, issues often arise concerning the multiple companies involved in the construction project and their insurance companies. Chief amongst these concerns are the duty to defend and indemnification.

The duty to defend refers to an insurance company’s obligation to defend an insured against claims made under a liability insurance policy. Though this may sound straight forward, in the construction context this theory can become complex. For example, if a construction company or contractor takes out insurance, the project’s other general and subcontractors may or may not be covered under that same policy depending on the wording of the insurance policy. In many cases, general and subcontractors will be covered as an additional insured under the insurance contract. If thi is the case, then the facts of the underlying claim must sufficiently allege liability in order for the duty to defend to engage.

These issues were closely examined recently by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit when a man injured at a construction site filed a lawsuit against the general contractor, but not his employer that was the subcontractor. The general contractor sought to have the subcontractor’s insurance company defend them as an additional insured under the subcontractor’s policy. After analyzing the policy, the court found that the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s policy, but nevertheless held that the insurance company had no duty to defend the general contractor. The reasoning behind this finding was that neither the injured employee nor his employer, the subcontractor, where alleged in the complaint to have been responsible for the injury. Since the contractor could only seek the insurance company’s duty to defend through negligence on behalf of those directly insured, namely the subcontractor or the general employee, then that duty to d efend was not induced.

The second issue in these complex insurance cases is indemnification. If a company is covered under an insurance policy, then if that company is forced to pay liability damages in a lawsuit, the insurance company will essentially reimburse the company for those damages. However, legal costs associated with defending the claim fall under the duty to defend, not indemnification.

Since the duty to defend and the duty to indemnify are separate, it is possible that an insurance company will not have to defend an additional insured but must still indemnify that company. This is what happened in the construction injury case mentioned above. The district court found that the employee was at least one percent responsible for his injury, causing the insurance to be invoked. The Court of Appeals upheld this finding as the insurance company did not challenge that ruling, but rather challenged the finding that the contractor was an additional insured.

Anytime a business or individual takes on construction work, it is important to know whether insurance coverage is provided and, if so, by whom. This will ensure that any injuries, physical, emotional or financial, will be compensated. A failure in determining insurance coverage can lead to a long, drawn out claims process that can leave an individual or business emotionally and financially drained.

Insurance claims are a necessity in order to protect businesses’ and workers’ interests. Yet, disputes over insurance coverage can be lengthy and convoluted. These complexities require the expertise of an experienced, competent attorney.

If you or your business is facing an insurance dispute, contact the Berniard Law Firm.

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