Temperatures in Arizona this week reached over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature in the Florida Keys was reported to reach sauna-like levels, threatening the life of habitat-sustaining coral. Atmospheric conditions are routinely blamed for violent storms and for wildfires that darken the skies.
Earlier in 2022, CBRE forecasted a 14.1% year-over-year increase in construction costs by year-end 2022, as labor and material costs continue to rise, despite the expectation that overall cost inflation for materials would begin to cool by the end of the year. Commercial construction costs have indeed increased, as Turner Construction Company’s Third Quarter 2022 Building Cost Index reported an 8.62% yearly increase from the third quarter of 2021, a 2.18% quarterly increase from the second quarter of 2022. In addition to supply chain issues for building materials, skilled labor shortages and construction wage growth persists.
A recent case in the Fifth Circuit, Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London v. Lowen Valley View, L.L.C., provides a valuable reminder to policyholders of the importance of promptly investigating any event that could cause damage, documenting that damage shortly after it occurs, and putting insurers on notice of the potential claim. Failure to do so could forfeit the insurance available for otherwise covered losses.
As the adage goes, don’t make a promise you cannot keep. An insurance policy, like any other contract, involves a commitment from both sides. For third-party liability policies, an insurer typically commits to a broad duty to defend the policyholder against any suits alleging claims that have a potential for coverage under the insurance policy. However, when a claim arises, insurers have a financial interest in trying to get off the hook. At times, policyholders need to turn to the courts for help reeling insurers in and forcing them to follow through with their commitments.
Recently, in Hanover Insurance Company v. Paul M. Zagaris, Inc., the Ninth Circuit ruled that an insurer had to defend its insured, a real estate brokerage firm, in a proposed class action suit because there was a potential for coverage for at least one of the alleged claims. The plaintiffs alleged that the real estate brokerage firm had received undisclosed kickbacks from the sale of natural-hazard disclosure reports to its clients. Specifically, they claimed that the firm breached its fiduciary duties, deceived its clients by omission, engaged in constructive fraud, and was unjustly enriched, among other things.
As James Taylor might say, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, but will my insurance cover the damage? California has certainly seen plenty of fire and rain. In the aftermath of the state’s most recent devastating events, damages are estimated to top $5 billion. As Californians file insurance claims to cover their losses, coverage for flooding and mudslide damage has come into focus.
Construction projects—especially those of any complexity—often experience unexpected delays, resulting in loss of use to the owner. Owners sometimes insure against this risk by getting “Soft Cost” coverage, which covers certain cost increases resulting from project delay (think higher finance costs). Typically, though, when a construction project experiences an unanticipated delay, everyone—the owner, the builder, the subcontractors and suppliers—is interested in getting the project back on schedule. So owners sometime also get “Expense to Reduce the Amount of Loss” (ERAL) coverage, which covers the cost of accelerating the project to get it back on schedule (think higher costs for additional construction crews and overtime). But if you have both “Soft Cost” and ERAL coverage, do they cancel each other out?
In 1173, builders broke ground in Pisa, Italy, on the Torre de Pisa (that is, the Tower of Pisa). At over 183 feet, it was to be a grand statement—remember, this was 1173, not 2016.
But the story is not all roses. The tower began immediately to tilt—by the time they started laying just the second floor of the tower, it was leaning. Thus, it earned the name we all now know (and love?), “Torre pendent di Pisa”—the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Wikipedia explains, “[t]he tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.” The tower now leans over 12 feet from the vertical axis.