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CLIENT ALERT: Ohio Supreme Court Rules that a Subcontractor's Construction Defects are Not a Covered "Occurrence" Under a CGL Policy

Although a growing number of states have held that CGL policies provide coverage for damages caused by the defective work of subcontractors, the Ohio Supreme Court has refused to join the national trend. In Ohio N. Univ. v. Charles Constr. Servs., Inc., 2018-Ohio-4057, the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that a subcontractor’s faulty workmanship is not a covered “occurrence” under a typical CGL policy.

Defective workmanship claims by contractors are frequently challenged by insurers on the grounds that the cost of repairs to defective work is not “property damage” resulting from a covered “occurrence.” Ohio construction companies who relied on their commercial general liability (CGL) policies to cover claims of defective workmanship were forced to reevaluate their exposure after the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Westfield Insurance Company v. Custom Agri Systems, Inc., 133 Ohio St.3d 476, 2012-Ohio-4712. Westfield presented the question of whether claims of defective construction and workmanship are covered claims for “property damage” caused by an “occurrence” under a CGL policy. Responding in the negative, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a CGL policy does not provide coverage to a contractor for its alleged defective workmanship on a project when the underlying defect giving rise to the damages in question is not accidental. An important concept underscored by the Court’s opinion in Westfield was that a CGL policy does not insure a contractor’s work itself; rather, it only covers the consequential risks that stem from that work. While a CGL may still cover these consequential risks, Westfield clarified that covered risks must result from an accidental “occurrence” and not from defective construction or workmanship that is within a contractor’s control. 

In Ohio N. Univ. v. Charles Constr. Servs, Inc., 2017-Ohio-258, the Third Appellate District reversed and remanded a judgment of a trial court which had relied on Westfield to deny coverage for defective workmanship performed by a subcontractor. The Court looked to specific exclusionary language to analyze the policy as a whole and disagreed with the insurer’s position that Westfield stood “for the expansive proposition that all claims for defective workmanship, regardless of who performed it, are barred from coverage under a CGL Policy because such claims can never constitute an ‘occurrence.’”  The Court proceeded to analyze the entire policy, including the various coverage exclusions, to determine if any applied to eliminate coverage for an “occurrence” of defective work. The Court found that the “Your Work” exclusion expressly precluded coverage for “property damage” to work or operations performed by a contractor or on the contractor’s behalf. However, although the “Your Work” exclusion appeared to exclude coverage for all  defective workmanship on its face, the Court noted that the exclusion contained an exception stating that the exclusion would not apply if the damages arose out of work performed on the contractor’s behalf by a subcontractor. Therefore, the Third Appellate District reasoned that this “subcontractor exception” to the “Your Work” exclusion could be applied to provide coverage under a CGL policy for the cost of repairs to defective work performed by a subcontractor.

The Ohio Supreme Court has now rejected this analysis by the Third Appellate District and reaffirmed its prior holding in Westfield that defective work does not constitute an “occurrence” under a CGL policy. This is true now even where policy language, such as the “subcontractor exception” to the “Your Work” exclusion, may appear to apply to the cost of repairs to defective work performed by a subcontractor.

Contractors should consult experienced legal counsel to assess their exposure and to develop appropriate risk management strategies to address gaps in their insurance coverage.  If you have any questions about this, or other matters affecting your business, do not hesitate to contact Martin Pangrace, Partner in BMD's Construction Group at (216) 658-2324 or mjpangrace@bmdllc.com.

DOL Proposes New Rule Regarding Independent Contractor Status - But How Will the Election Affect Its Future?

On September 22, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new proposed rule regarding employee and independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The full text of the proposed rule is available here. The rule's drafters intend to reduce uncertainty and enhance the precision and predictability of the long-standing "economic reality" test, which currently relies on a multifactor balancing test.

Major Change to Franklin County, Ohio Eviction Process: Landlord Testimony Required

Although there is currently a nationwide temporary halt on all residential evictions through December 31, 2020 in place, the eviction process in Franklin County – which processes the highest number of evictions in the State of Ohio at approximately 18,000 a year – recently changed significantly.

UPDATE: Governor Dewine Signs HB 606 Granting Short Window of Immunity from COVID-19 Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Ohio General Assembly, in Am. Sub. H.B. No. 606, is in the final stages of passing a law that will prohibit lawsuits seeking damages from COVID-19. This includes injury, death, or loss to person or property if the lawsuits are based, in whole or in part, on the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of the coronavirus, unless the defendant in the lawsuit acted intentionally or recklessly. In circumstances where this immunity does not apply, H.B. 606 prohibits such claims being aggregated and brought as a class action.

Revised Department of Labor FFCRA Guidance, Effective September 16, 2020

In response to attacks on the legality of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule regarding the Families First Coronavirus Act (“FFCRA” or the “Act”), which took effect in April 2020, the Department of Labor issued new guidance on Friday, September 11th to formally address ongoing questions and concerns related to the COVID-19 legislation.

FCC Adds $198 Million to Strengthen Telehealth for Rural Healthcare Providers

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has added an additional $198 million in funding to its Rural Health Care Program. These funds will be used to increase broadband services and telecommunications to bolster telehealth/telemedicine services for rural healthcare providers. Funding for rural healthcare providers was initially capped at $605 million in 2020, but the added funds will now allow the FCC to provide over $800 million to eligible providers.