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    FAIRFIELD CONNECTICUT BUILDING CONSULTANT
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    The Fairfield, Connecticut Building Consultant Group is comprised from a number of credentialed construction professionals possessing extensive trial support experience relevant to construction defect and claims matters. Leveraging from this considerable body of experience, BHA provides construction related trial support and expert services to the nation's most recognized construction litigation practitioners, Fortune 500 builders, commercial general liability carriers, owners, construction practice groups, and a variety of state and local government agencies.

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    Will a Notice of Non-Responsibility Prevent Enforcement of a California Mechanics Lien?

    August 06, 2019 —
    The “Notice of Non-Responsibility” is one of the most misunderstood and ineffectively used of all the legal tools available to property owners in California construction law. As a result, in most cases the answer to the above question is “No”, the posting and recording of a Notice of Non-Responsibility will not prevent enforcement of a California Mechanics Lien. The mechanics lien is a tool used by a claimant who has not been paid for performing work or supplying materials to a construction project. It provides the claimant the right to encumber the property where the work was performed and thereafter sell the property in order to obtain payment for the work or materials, even though the claimant had no contract directly with the property owner. When properly used, a Notice of Non-Responsibility will render a mechanics lien unenforceable against the property where the construction work was performed. By derailing the mechanics lien the owner protects his property from a mechanics lien foreclosure sale. Unfortunately, owners often misunderstand when they can and cannot effectively use a Notice of Non-Responsibility. As a result, the Notice of Non-Responsibility is usually ineffective in protecting the owner and his property. The rules for the use of the Notice of Non-Responsibility are found in California Civil Code section 8444. Deceptively simple, the rules essentially state that an owner “that did not contract for the work of improvement”, within 10 days after the owner first “has knowledge of the work of improvement”, may fill out the necessary legal form for a Notice of Non-Responsibility and post that form at the worksite and record it with the local County Recorder in order to prevent enforcement of a later mechanics lien on the property. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of William L. Porter, Porter Law Group
    Mr. Porter may be contacted at bporter@porterlaw.com

    Georgia Federal Court Says Fact Questions Exist As To Whether Nitrogen Is An “Irritant” or “Contaminant” As Used in Pollution Exclusion

    May 20, 2019 —
    The Southern District of Georgia recently ruled that Evanston Insurance Company is not entitled to summary judgment on whether its policies’ pollution exclusion bars coverage for the release of nitrogen into a warehouse. The case stems from an incident at Xytex Tissue Services, LLC’s warehouse, where Xytex stored biological material at low temperatures. Xytex used an on-site “liquid nitrogen delivery system” to keep the material properly cooled. This system releases liquid nitrogen, which would vaporize into nitrogen gas and cool the biological material. On February 5, 2017, a Xytex employee, Deputy Greg Meagher, entered the warehouse to investigate activated motion detectors and burglar alarms. Deputy Meagher was overcome by nitrogen gas and died as a result. Following Deputy Meagher’s death, his heirs filed suit against Xytex and other defendants. Evanston denied coverage based on the pollution exclusion in its policy. Evanston then brought a declaratory judgment action to confirm its coverage position. In denying Evanston’s summary judgment motion, the Southern District of Georgia reasoned that the type of injury sustained is essential in analyzing whether the pollution exclusion applies. Specifically, Xytex argued, and the court agreed, that the underlying lawsuit alleged that the bodily injury was caused by a lack of oxygen, not exposure to nitrogen. The court also distinguished prior decisions, explaining that injury caused by a lack of oxygen is not a contamination or irritation of the body in the same way as injury resulting from exposure to carbon monoxide or lead. The court also found that Xytex “reasonably expected that liability related to a nitrogen leak would be insured.” Reprinted courtesy of Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP attorneys Lawrence J. Bracken II, Michael S. Levine and Alexander D. Russo Mr. Bracken may be contacted at lbracken@HuntonAK.com Mr. Levine may be contacted at mlevine@HuntonAK.com Mr. Russo may be contacted at arusso@HuntonAK.com Read the court decision
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    Study Finds San Francisco Bay is Sinking Faster than Expected

    July 15, 2019 —
    All coastal cities in the U.S. face some potential threat from sea-level rise, but areas around San Francisco Bay may be more vulnerable than previously thought according to a recent study by Arizona State University’s Manoochehr Shirzaei and UC Berkley’s Roland Bürgmann published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Alan Rider, ENR
    ENR may be contacted at ENR.com@bnpmedia.com

    Ruling Closes the Loop on Restrictive Additional Insured Endorsement – Reasonable Expectations of Insured Builder Prevails Over Intent of Insurer

    July 31, 2019 —
    On June 5, 2019, the Court of Appeal in McMillin Homes Construction, Inc. v. National Fire & Marine Insurance Company, 35 Cal. App. 5th 1042 (Cal. Ct. App. 2019) issued an important opinion on the scope of additional insured insurance coverage for developers and general contractors in California. Specifically, the “care, custody and control” (“CCC”) exclusion will be read to only exclude coverage for additional insureds who exercised exclusive control over the damaged property. Thus, general contractors who share control of the property with their subcontractors, as is typical on most projects, will not be denied coverage under this exclusion. I. Facts & Procedural History McMillin Homes Construction, Inc. was a Southern California developer and general contractor. In 2014, homeowners sued McMillin for roofing defects in a case called Galvan v. McMillin Auburn Lane II, LLC. Pursuant to a subcontract, the roofer, Martin Roofing Company, Inc., provided McMillin with additional insured coverage under Martin’s general liability insurance policy. The insurer, National Fire and Marine Insurance Company, covered McMillin under an ISO Form CG 20 09 03 97 Additional Insured (“AI”) endorsement. After McMillin tendered its defense of the Galvan lawsuit under the AI endorsement, National Fire declined to provide McMillin with a defense to the homeowners’ lawsuit, relying on a CCC exclusion contained in the AI endorsement for property in the care, custody or control of the additional insured. McMillin then sued National Fire for breach of the policy, bad faith and declaratory relief in McMillin Homes Construction, Inc. v. National Fire & Marine Insurance Company. In McMillin Homes, the trial court found the CCC exclusion in the AI endorsement applied and held in favor of the insurer, National Fire. The trial court found the exclusion for damage to property in McMillin’s “care, custody, or control” precluded coverage for the roofing defect claims, as well as any duty on the part of the insurer to defend the home builder, McMillin. McMillin filed an appeal from the trial court’s ruling. II. Case Holding The Court of Appeal reversed to hold in favor of McMillin, interpreting the CCC exclusion narrowly and finding a duty on the part of the insurer to defend the general contractor pursuant to the AI endorsement on the roofer’s insurance policy. It held that for the CCC exclusion to attach, it would require the general contractor’s exclusive control over the damaged property, but here, the general contractor shared control with the roofer. The Court of Appeal noted that where there is ambiguity as to whether a duty to defend exists, the court favors the reasonable belief of the insured over the intent of the insurer. Here, that reasonable belief was that the coverage applied and the exclusion was narrow. The Court of Appeal relied upon Home Indemnity Co. v. Leo L. Davis, Inc., 79 Cal. App. 3d 863 (Ct. App. 1978) (“Davis”), as a judicial interpretation of the CCC exclusion. That case synthesized a string of case law into a single conclusion: that courts may hold the exclusion inapplicable where the insured’s control is not exclusive. In the opinion in McMillin Homes, coverage turned upon whether control was exclusive: “[t]he exclusion is inapplicable where the facts at best suggest shared control.” The Court of Appeal stated the “need for painstaking evaluation of the specific facts of each case. Here, McMillin coordinated the project’s scheduling, but Martin furnished the materials and labor and oversaw the work; they therefore shared control. Even if the rule in Davis did not apply and the exclusion was found to be ambiguous, the court stated that “control” requires a higher threshold than merely acting as a general contractor. Liability policies are presumed to include defense duties and exclusions must be “conspicuous, plain, and clear.” Furthermore, because “construction defect litigation is typically complex and expensive, a key motivation [for the endorsement] is to offset the cost of defending lawsuits where the general contractor’s liability is claimed to be derivative.” This is especially true because the duty to defend is triggered by a mere potential of coverage. Under the insurer’s construction of the exclusion, coverage would be so restrictive under the AI endorsement that it was nearly worthless to the additional insured. III. Reasonable Expectation of the Insured Prevails over the Intent of the Insurer Like most commercial general liability policies, National Fire’s policy excluded coverage for property damage Martin was contractually obliged to pay, with an exception for “insured contracts.” Typically, “insured contracts” include prospective indemnification agreements for third party claims. The National Fire policy contained a form CG 21 39 Contractual Liability Limitation endorsement, which deleted indemnity agreements from the definition of “insured contracts” to effectively preclude coverage for the indemnity provision between McMillin and Martin. National Fire argued that this endorsement demonstrated its intent to exclude coverage to McMillin for the homeowners’ defect lawsuit. The Court of Appeal stated that the insurer’s intent is not controlling and that the insureds reasonable expectation under the AI endorsement would control. As a result of its ruling, the Court also dealt a significant blow to the argument that the CG 21 39 endorsement is effective as a total bar to additional insured coverage for all construction defect claims. IV. Conclusion The decision is good news for developers and general contractors who rely on subcontractors to provide additional insured coverage. Unless the general contractor exercises exclusive control over a given project, the CCC exclusion in the CG 20 09 03 97 additional insured endorsement may not preclude the duty to defend. Demonstrating that a general contractor exercised exclusive control over the project would be extremely difficult to show under normal project circumstances because the any subcontractor participation appears to eliminate the general contractor’s exclusive control. The case also highlights the need for construction professionals to regularly review their insurance programs with their risk management team (lawyers, brokers, and risk managers). As is often the case, a basic insurance policy review at the outset of the McMillin project could likely have avoided the entire dispute. For owners and general contractors, CG 20 10 (ongoing operations) and CG 20 37 (completed operations) additional insured forms are preferable to the CG 20 09 form at issue in the McMillin case because they do not contain the CCC exclusion. The CG 20 10 and 20 37 forms are readily available in the marketplace and are commonly added to most policies upon request. Had those forms been added, AI coverage likely would have been extended to McMillin without the need for litigation. Similarly, carriers will routinely delete the CG 21 39 Contractual Liability Limitation endorsement upon request. Deletion of the CG 21 39 would have circumvented National Fire’s second argument in its entirety. Additionally, insurance policies, endorsements, and exclusions are subject to revision and are not always issued on standard forms. As a result, it is incumbent upon developers, contractors, and subcontractors to specify the precise overage requirements for construction projects and to review all endorsements, certificates, and policies carefully. Due to the difficulty in monitoring compliance with insurance requirements, project owners and general contractors are finding that it is better to insure projects under project specific wrap-up insurance programs which eliminate many of the issues pertaining to additional insured coverage. Wrap-up programs vary greatly as to their terms and conditions, so however a project is insured, insurance requirements and evidence of coverage should be carefully reviewed by experienced and qualified risk managers, brokers, and legal counsel to assure that projects and parties are sufficiently covered. Gibbs Giden is nationally and locally recognized by U. S. News and Best Lawyers as among the “Best Law Firms” in both Construction Law and Construction Litigation. Chambers USA Directory of Leading Lawyers has consistently recognized Gibbs Giden as among California’s elite construction law firms. The authors can be reached at tsenet@gibbsgiden.com (Theodore Senet); jadams@gibbsgiden.com (Jason Adams) and ccalvin@gibbsgiden.com (Clayton Calvin). Read the court decision
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    Think Twice About Depreciating Repair Costs in Our State, says the Tennessee Supreme Court

    July 09, 2019 —
    Tennessee’s Supreme Court recently held that an insurer may not withhold repair labor costs as depreciation when the policy definition of actual cash value is found to be ambiguous. Tennessee joins other states like California and Vermont that prohibit the depreciation of repair labor costs in property policies. In Lammert v. Auto-Owners (Mut.) Ins. Co., No. M201702546SCR23CV, 2019 WL 1592687, the Lammerts and other insureds sought property damage coverage from Auto Owners Insurance for hail damage to a home and other structures they owned in Tennessee. Auto-Owners Insurance agreed to settle the claims on an actual cash value basis (ACV), which is a method of establishing the value of insured property that must be replaced to determine the indemnity by the insurer. There are multiple methods to calculate ACV. Auto-Owners decided to use the ACV calculation method of deducting depreciation from the cost to repair or replace the damaged property. Depreciation is the decline in value of a property since it was new because of use, age or wear. The rationale behind this method is that an insured should not make a profit by recovering the cost of, for example, a new roof for a damaged roof that was ten years old, and thus depreciation is deducted from the indemnity. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Andres Avila, Saxe Doernberger & Vita, P.C.
    Mr. Avila may be contacted at ara@sdvlaw.com

    What is a Subordination Agreement?

    May 06, 2019 —
    Put simply, a subordination agreement is a legal agreement which establishes one debt as ranking behind another debt in the priority for collecting repayment from a debtor. It is an arrangement that alters the lien position. Without a subordination clause, loans take chronological priority which means that a deed of trust recorded first will be considered senior to all deeds of trusts recorded after. As such, the oldest loan becomes the primary loan, with first call on any proceeds from a sale of a property. However, a subordination agreement acknowledges that one party’s claim or interest is inferior to that of another party in the event that the borrowing entity liquidates its assets. Further, shareholders are subordinate to all creditors. The junior debt is referred to as a “subordinated debt”, and the debt which has a higher claim to any assets is the senior debt. Often, the borrower does not have enough funds to pay all debts, and lower priority debts may receive little or no repayment. For example, if a business has $400,000 in senior debt, $100,000 in subordinated debt, and a total asset value of $420,000, upon liquidation of the company, only the senior debtholder will be paid in full. The remaining $20,000 will be distributed among the subordinated debtholders. Subordinated debts are, therefore, riskier and lenders will require a higher interest rate as compensation. Read the court decision
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    Reprinted courtesy of Bremer Whyte Brown & O'Meara LLP

    “If It Walks Like A Duck . . .” – Expert Testimony Not Always Required In Realtor Malpractice Cases Where Alleged Breach Of Duty Can Be Easily Understood By Lay Persons

    April 17, 2019 —
    In Ryan v. Real Estate of the Pacific, Inc., et al. (No. D072724, filed 2/26/19), the Fourth Appellate District reversed a trial court’s granting of summary judgment and finding that expert testimony is not required in a professional negligence action where the claimed acts or omissions are within the understanding of a lay person. Daniel and Patricia Ryan hired Defendants David Schroedl, David Schroedl & Associates, and Real Estate of the Pacific, Inc., doing business as Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty to list, market, and sell their property. During an open house, the Ryans’ neighbor informed Defendant David Schroedl that he planned significant construction on his own property which would impact the Ryans’ property including, but not limited to, building a large addition that would obstruct the property’s westerly ocean view. Schroedl never disclosed this information to the Ryans or to the subsequent purchasers of the Ryans’ property. The day after escrow closed, the new owners’ interior decorator spoke with that neighbor who again explained his extensive remodeling plans. Reprinted courtesy of David W. Evans, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP and Renata L. Hoddinott, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP Mr. Evans may be contacted at devans@hbblaw.com Ms. Hoddinott may be contacted at rhoddinott@hbblaw.com Read the court decision
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    Crews Tested By Rocky Ground, Utility Challenges

    September 03, 2019 —
    Problematic utility locations and difficult ground conditions required the project team to develop innovative solutions on the University of Texas at San Antonio’s $95-million Science and Engineering Building. Reprinted courtesy of Louise Poirier, Engineering News-Record Ms. Poirier may be contacted at poirierl@enr.com Read the court decision
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