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WhatA Virginia federal court has ruled that by proactively replacing defective drywall rather than waiting to get sued and found liable, a contractor was left without liability insurance coverage. This decision should send shivers down the spine of not just contractors, but also owners and developers.

The builder, Dragas Management, built 70 houses in the Tidewater Virginia area with Chinese drywall. After it received multiple reports of health symptoms and property damages, Dragas filed claims on multiple liability and umbrella insurance policies. It also stated in writing to the carriers that it was planning on beginning a remediation protocol and forwarded the same to the carriers. Four home owners filed suit against Dragas and later voluntarily dismissed the cases based on the remediation protocol.

Frequent readers will know that we have talked about Chinese drywall litigation and issues quite a bit here.  One of the ugliest cases was a builder who proactively repaired drywall issues having its initial complaint against its insurers who did not provide a defense thrown out on motion to dismiss.  The court originally found that the complaint failed to state a claim because the builder had not been sued and in essence the builder voluntarily made repair efforts in violation of the insurance policies.

Happily for Dragas, the court gave it leave to amend and it did so, alleging more facts regarding the threats of claims by home owners.  Dragas' claim has now officially survived a motion to dismiss.  While this is far from a victory, it does provide a bit of comfort to builders that they are not simply stuck with no path forward for coverage unless sued. 

Common sense and good policy certainly suggest that builders should be encouraged to solve problems rather than let them fester and worsen in the hope that they eventually get sued and an insurance policy is triggered.  Virginia law, however, is driven by contract and statutory interpretation rather than equitable consideration of good policy by courts.  Insurance coverage on construction projects is highly complex and poorly understood.  Look forward to us engaging in further discussion of this important issue moving forward.

Newspaper and teaThere is big news in the world of Chinese drywall litigation.  First, various news sources including the Miami Herald reported a $2.5 million jury verdict on behalf of a homeowner couple against Banner Supply, the supplier of the drywall.  The verdict is reported to include not just loss of use of the home and repair costs, but also stigma damages for loss of value to the property.  The jury may have become inflamed by the supply company's actions after having been informed of complaints.  According to CBS4 in Miami:

According to documents entered into evidence, when Banner Supply notified its Chinese supplier about the complaints, the supplier replaced the distributor's inventory of Chinese-made drywall with American-made drywall. In return, Banner Supply allegedly signed a confidentiality agreement not to say anything about it to the government or its customers.

torn umbrellaAs reported yesterday by Virginia Lawyer's Weekly, a Virginia federal judge has ruled that a builder who remediated 70 homes constructed with Chinese drywall was not entitled to insurance recovery of the remediation costs.  This case is a painful reminder of how even positive, proactive business decisions can translate to tremendous liability risks, particular where interpretation of contracts and insurance occurs under Virginia law.

Washington Snowstorm Lincoln MemorialSo, here in the Washington, DC area we are buried under a couple feet of snow.  You know we have a lot of snow when the Lincoln Memorial steps have been transformed into a good tobogan run.  Unfortunately, so much snow means a ton of dead load placed on roof structures.  There are a number of roof collapses reported around the area.  So far, the major blessing is it appears that none of these events have led to any serious personal injuries.  You can definitely expect that these significant collapse events will trigger equally significant property damage claims, business interruption issues, and perhaps threaten the long-term viability of some businesses.  These events include:

Here is a news report on the Baileys Crossroads roof collapse from WJLA:

[embed]http://cfc.wjla.com/mediaplayer.swf[/embed]

With the threat of more snow potentially on the way, the region may not have seen the last of these problems.  Building owners may face some significant hurdles to full recovery, including finding out the limitations of their insurance policies, facing problems with statutes of limitations and/or statutes of repose, and finding that responsible parties are casualties of the current economic crisis and thus are judgment proof.  All of these factors point to a few very important lessons:

  • Know and understand your insurance coverage and its limitations before you have problems
  • When shopping for insurance, evaluate risk and consider not just shopping for the lowest price; you may find that going cheap on insurance ultimately costs you far more
  • Know and understand applicable statutes of limitations and statutes of repose prior to entering into design, construction, or property purchase agreements
  • Factor in the impacts of these time limitation issues when you asses the appropriate levels and types of insurance your purchase
  • Do your homework - conducting detailed inspections prior to purchase and properly evaluating the strength and credentials of your consultants and contractors is an investment of time and money, but it is worth it in the long run rather than face a catastrophic loss in the future

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