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Ruling prevents county from subrogating damages after courthouse fire

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The Indiana Court of Appeals Tuesday adopted the “majority approach” in a waiver of subrogation issue and concluded a southern Indiana county waived its right to subrogate any and all claims covered by its property insurance. Jefferson County sued contractors after its courthouse caught fire during renovations in 2009.

Jefferson County entered into a contract with Teton Corp. to renovate the building and subcontract work to several companies. The contract prepared by the American Institute of Architects stated that Jefferson County, as owner of the project, should obtain separate insurance. Instead of obtaining separate property or builder’s risk insurance for the project, the county relied on its existing property and casualty insurance. The county also did not tell Teton that it wasn’t getting the separate insurance. The contract also required Teton to obtain contractors liability insurance.

During renovations, a fire broke out in May 2009 causing more than $6 million in damages. The county relied on its general insurance policy, but that did not cover all of the damages.

The county sued Teton and other defendants involved in renovations, claiming negligence, breach of implied warranties and breach of contract. The defendants argued Jefferson County agreed to provide insurance for the project and waived its subrogation rights against them, so the county can’t recover damages that were caused by the fire.

In granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that the county as owner of the project was to obtain insurance and that insurance would be the source of compensation in the event of a loss. The contract also says every party would waive the right to seek recovery of the loss covered by the insurance policy.

Jefferson County conceded that pursuant to the terms of the AIA contract, subrogation is barred when a property owner seeks to recover damages to its insured “Work” property, but maintains that “this case involves damage to non-Work property.” And therefore, Jefferson County argues that under the AIA contract, Teton was responsible for procuring insurance to cover damages for claims “other than to the Work.”

In support of its argument, Jefferson County relied on Midwestern Indemnity Company v. Systems Builders, Inc., 801 N.E.2d 661 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), which concluded that under the AIA contract there is a distinction between work and non-work property, and the scope of the waiver is limited to damages to the work property.

The interpretation of the waiver provision has been litigated in other jurisdictions and the Court of Appeals, but not made it to the Indiana Supreme Court. After examining caselaw, in The Board of Commissioners of the County of Jefferson v. Teton Corporation, Innovative Roofing Solutions, Inc., Gutapfel Roofing, Inc. and Daniel L. Gutapfel, 72A04-1302-CT-55, Judges Paul Mathias and Edward Najam affirmed, ruling the “majority view” is the better approach to risk allocation in construction projects in general, which rejects the “work” v. “non-work” approach.

They believed adopting the “minority, non-Work distinction” used previously by the Indiana Court of Appeals would “throw many projects into protracted litigation, possibly even years after project completion and acceptance.”

“Each and every major construction project adds both value and risk to the owner’s property. Section 11.3.1 of the AIA contract therefore requires owners to insure their interests in the construction project at least to the value of the underlying contract.

The AIA contract expressly requires property owners to separately insure these interests and, in order to facilitate the completion of the project without delaying and debilitating litigation, to obtain an ‘all-risk’ insurance policy that waives the carrier’s rights to be subrogated to any loss arising within the extremely broad coverage described in the contract. If the owner does not secure such insurance, then it still waives its subrogation rights for any loss described within the AIA contract that it sustains,” Mathias wrote.

Judge Elaine Brown dissented, believing the court should uphold the minority approach as outlined in Midwestern. By adopting the majority approach, the majority in this case has prevented the county from being able to attempt to recoup damages to non-work property from Teton’s liability insurer based upon alleged negligence.

 

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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