Six Basic Types of Business Insurance You Might Need

Successful companies of all sizes readily address their insurance needs so they won’t later be caught off guard by either a baseless or valid legal claim. No matter how hard you try to provide flawless products and services to the public, there’s always a chance that a defective product or business transaction may render you liable for legal damages.

Although only certain types of companies must carry workers compensation, disability and unemployment insurance to meet federal guidelines, all businesses can benefit from protecting their company assets by purchasing basic and special types of business insurance.

Fortunately, there are only six basic types of business insurance that you and your business partners must carefully review while trying to protect your company against future legal challenges. All six are set forth below with additional information.

Six common types of business insurance

Before reviewing the following types of insurance, be sure to thoroughly discuss the precise nature of all your business transactions with your insurance agent.

  1. General liability insurance. This will provide you with legal defense support for a variety of alleged wrongs. For example, your company may be sued based on a personal injury claim or the alleged statements of one of your employees. For example, if one of your customers is seriously injured while visiting one of your offices or factories, this policy can help you compensate the injured party for all bodily injuries and medical expenses. In addition, this same type of policy could protect you if a court holds one of your employees liable for business libel or slander — for damages up to the maximum amount of coverage stated in your policy.
  2. Product liability insurance. Even some of the most reliable products on the market will occasionally malfunction and harm a consumer. For this reason, you must secure an ample amount of product liability insurance coverage for this type of claim.
  3. Professional liability insurance. If your company provides any types of services to customers, you must carry this type of policy – often referred to as “E and O” (errors and omissions) coverage. This policy will cover the costs of defending your company in a civil lawsuit that may be based on the alleged grounds of malpractice (often medical or legal). The insurance industry doesn’t view these types of claims as eligible for coverage under either general liability insurance or a homeowner’s insurance policy.
  4. Commercial property insurance. Industrial fires, floods, windy hail storms and other natural disasters can quickly destroy critical manufacturing plants, office buildings and valuable inventory. Always be sure to carry ample coverage under this type of policy — based on recent property value appraisals.
  5. Home-based business insurance. This type of policy is usually offered as a rider to a person’s homeowner’s insurance. It provides limited coverage for such problems as business equipment and inventory damages. This type of policy can also provide funds to cover liability claims brought by injured third parties.
  6. A business owner’s policy. This general type of coverage can let you bundle nearly all (or most) of your insurance needs into one policy. If you pursue this option alone – make sure it adequately protects you regarding all the most unique aspects of your company’s goods and services.

When discussing your insurance needs with your lawyer and insurance agent

Always talk about every reasonable type of harm that your business might suffer. Also, make sure you’ve chosen the best type of partnership or corporate structure to further protect your personal and business assets. Once you fully understand all the risks your company might face, find a highly respected business insurance broker. Always ask trusted business peers for their recommendations for this type of agent.

Finally, speak with your Houston business law attorney about all the specific types of insurance required by the state of Texas for a company like yours. And be sure to address all the federal government’s insurance requirements. Keep in touch with your insurance agent and lawyer throughout each year so they can each readily update you about new legal or policy requirements that may affect your current coverage during the upcoming year.

Please feel free to contact a Murray Lobb lawyer so we can talk with you about the legal aspects of obtaining adequate insurance coverage for all your business needs.

Tenants: Beware and Negotiate

In a matter of first impression before the Texas Supreme Court, the Court ruled that a Residential Lease provision that obligated the Tenant to pay for any damages that result from “any cause not due to Landlord’s negligence or fault” was not void and unenforceable.

The background facts:  A young lady, Carmen White, got her first apartment and signed a standard Texas Apartment Association (“TAA”) lease.  Her parents gave her a washer and dryer set as a gift.  While using the dryer, it caught fire and burned her apartment and others nearby.  The damages to the apartment complex exceeded $83,000.00.  The source of the ignition was unknown and no fault was placed on White or the Landlord.  The landlord’s insurance company paid the claim, subrogated, and demanded reimbursement from Ms. White.  When she refused to pay the insurance company brought suit against her. 

The Procedural facts:  The case was tried to a jury.  After trial, the jury answered “no” to a question asking if White’s negligence proximately caused the fire.  However, the jury answered “yes” to the question whether White breached the lease agreement by failing to pay the casualty loss.  The jury awarded the landlord $93,498.00 in damages.  White moved for judgment not withstanding the verdict which was granted and the trial court rendered a take-nothing judgment.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court ruling holding that that the Reimbursement Provision was void as against public policy.  The Appeals Court found a fatal conflict between the Reimbursement Provision’s broad language and Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code restricting a Landlord’s ability to contractually allocate repair responsibilities.

The Supreme Court ruling:  The Supreme Court was to determine, as a matter of first impression, whether public policy embodied in the Texas Property Code precludes enforcement of a residential lease provision imposing liability on a tenant for property losses resulting from “any other cause not due to the landlord’s negligence or fault”.  In so holding the Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision) repeatedly stated the well known legal axiom that “Parties in Texas may contract as they wish, so long as the agreement does not violate the law or offend public policy, recognizing the the Legislature has limited the freedom of a landlord and tenant to contractually allocate responsibility for repairs materially affecting health and safety.  Interestingly in footnote 4, the court acknowledged that above the signature block, the lease prominently states that the lease can be modified by agreement of the parties, but neither party requested modifications to the Reimbursement Provision. 

The Lease contained a reimbursement provision standard in the TAA lease which obligated the Tenant to pay for any damages that result from “any cause not due to Landlord’s negligence or fault”.

As we all know it is almost impossible to get a Landlord to revise any provision in a standard form lease, but if you are to avoid the tragedy that happened to Ms. White, you must negotiate a modification of the Lease.

Be aware that the TAA Lease is a legal document and forms a binding contract.  You should consult an attorney for help revising the Lease. 

We would first add a sentence to Section 10, Special Provisions.  We would write in the blanks a sentence to limit my liability.  For instance, “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, Tenant shall never be responsible for repair, or liable for damages to Landlord’s property, including other units in the complex, unless such damage is proximately caused by the negligence of Tenant, Tenant’s guests, or invitees.”

Secondly, we would strike out certain language contained in Section 12. We would strike out “or any other cause not due to our negligence or fault”, at the end of the first sentence of Section 12.

We firmly believe that no residential Tenant should be held responsible to repair other units damaged or for property losses “resulting from any other cause not due to the landlord’s negligence or fault.”  Do not let this happen to you.

A Few “Factors” to Consider

Should a Subcontractor be allowed to assign, sell, or otherwise transfer (factor) an account receivable due from a general contractor for work performed on a construction project? We say, absolutely not. Here’s the problem.

Construction funds are trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.001(a) (commonly referred to as the “Trust Funds Statute”). Even loan receipts are trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.001(b).

A contractor, subcontractor or owner, or an officer, director, or agent of a contractor, subcontractor, or owner, who receives trust funds or who has control or direction of trust funds, is a trustee of the trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.002.

An artisan, laborer, mechanic, contractor, subcontractor, or materialman who labors or who furnishes labor or material for the construction or repair of an improvement on specific real property is a beneficiary of any trust funds paid or received in connection with the improvements. Texas Property Code §162.003.

A general contractor is a trustee of construction funds paid to it by the owner. A subcontractor would be a beneficiary of the trust funds paid to the general contractor in connection with the improvements at the project. In turn, once paid, the subcontractor becomes a trustee.

A trustee who, intentionally or knowingly or with intent to defraud, directly or indirectly, retains, uses, disburses, or otherwise diverts trust funds without first fully paying all current or past due obligations incurred by the trustee to the beneficiaries of the trust funds, has misapplied the trust funds. Texas Property Code §162.031.

A trustee who misapplies trust funds amounting to $500 or more in violation of Chapter 162, with intent to defraud, commits a felony of the third degree. Texas Property Code §162.032 (b). If the misapplication of trust funds by a trustee constitutes another offense punishable under the laws of this State, the State may elect the offense for which it will prosecute the trustee. Texas Property Code §162.033.

Under Section 9.406 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code, once the account debtor (General Contractor) receives notification of the assignment of an account (invoice), the account debtor cannot discharge its obligation by paying the assignor (Subcontractor). After receipt of the notification, the account debtor (General Contractor) may discharge its obligation only by paying the assignee (Factor Company).

This situation results in a legal paradox.

1. On the one hand, Subcontractor has relieved itself from the implications of the Trust Fund Statute. Subcontractor is no longer receiving “trust funds” for its services provided at the construction project. It is receiving funds for the work from a third source, Factor Company. After receipt of these funds, Subcontractor can “retain, use or disburse” those funds any way it chooses without worry of the implications imposed by the Trust Fund Statute.

2. Factor Company would argue that it is not a Trustee, subject to the Trust Fund Statute. Thus, after receiving payment of trust funds from the account debtor, it does not have to pay any beneficiaries of Subcontractor.

3. On the other hand, General Contractor is required to pay Subcontractor under the Trust Fund Statute. If General Contractor pays Factor Company, General Contractor, its owners, or officers, or directors face potential criminal liability. Further, if General Contractor pays Factor Company, and Factor Company does not pay Subcontractor beneficiaries, the project is subject to lien. If General Contractor does not pay Factor Company, then General Contractor is subject to liability under Section 9.406 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code.

By factoring the accounts receivable, Factor Company, Subcontractor, its owner or officers, and directors have circumvented the trust fund statute, is not a trustee, and thus can use those funds for any purpose thus avoiding a criminal penalty. This unintended result cannot be tolerated in the construction setting.

Keeping an owner’s construction project property free and clear of liens is a constant concern for general contractors. Because subcontractors typically purchase materials to be incorporated into the construction project from third parties, it is important that the flow of funds from the owner to the general contractor to the subcontractor make their way to the suppliers to prevent liens filed by these outside third party suppliers. If a subcontractor were allowed to assign (factor) its account receivable due under a construction contract, and if payment would have to be made to the assignee, how would the assignor’s (subcontractors) suppliers, materialmen, and laborers be paid to prevent liens?

It could be argued that Subcontractor could (and should) pay the funds it receives from the factor to the beneficiaries. However, in the real world that does not happen. That’s why we have the Trust Fund Statute. It is for these reasons that the factoring, sale, or assignment of a right to payment under a construction contract for construction or repair of an improvement on specific real property in this State be declared void as against public policy. A seemingly legal means to avoid criminal prosecution should not be tolerated and in the interest of public policy should be invalidated and voided.

Good News for Owners of a Construction Project? We think so!

On May 8, 2015, the Texas Supreme Court, in a case of first impression, interpreted Chapter 95 of the Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which relates to limitations on a property owner’s liability for injury, death, or property damage to an independent contractor while constructing, repairing, renovating, modifying, or improving the real property.

In the case of Abutahoun v. The Dow Chemical Company, the Supreme court held that Chapter 95 applies to independent contractors’ claims against property owners for damages caused by negligence when those claims arise from the condition or use of an improvement to real property where the independent contractor constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies the improvement. In so finding, the Court held that Chapter 95 limits property owner liability on claims for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by negligence, including claims concerning a property owner’s own contemporaneous negligent activity.

In this case Dow Chemical contracted with Win–Way Industries to install insulation on a system of pipelines at Dow’s facility in Freeport, Texas. Robert Henderson was a Win–Way employee, and he assisted with the insulation work. Dow’s Freeport facility contained thousands of pipes in a pipeline system that ran throughout the facility. While working for Win–Way on the asbestos-insulated pipeline system Henderson was allegedly exposed to asbestos dust by Dow employees who were installing, sawing, and removing asbestos insulation nearby. He was also allegedly exposed to asbestos dust as a result of his own direct contact with the insulation products.

Eventually, Henderson was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and he and his wife, Tanya, sued Dow and over a dozen other defendants, alleging under various negligence and product liability theories that the defendants were responsible for Henderson’s injuries due to asbestos exposure. The jury returned a verdict in which it found that Dow’s negligence proximately caused Henderson’s injuries, and that Dow was 30% responsible for causing Henderson’s injuries. Based on the jury verdict and several adjustments, the trial court rendered judgment against Dow for $2.64 million plus interest and court costs.

Dow appealed the verdict and argued that Chapter 95 does not distinguish between a property owner’s liability for exposure caused by the activities of contractors and their employees and exposure that the property owner’s own employees’ activities caused. Further, Dow argued that Chapter 95 applied to bar all of the Hendersons’ negligence claims because the Hendersons did not establish that Dow had both control over Robert Henderson’s work and actual knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure as Chapter 95 requires. The Hendersons argued that Dow could not “avail itself of the heightened protections afforded by Chapter 95” because their claims against Dow were “based solely upon the negligent activities of Dow employees, and not from injury arising from the condition or use of an improvement of real property of Henderson.

The court of appeals agreed with Dow’s interpretation of the statute. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of Dow, holding that Chapter 95 applied to the Hendersons’ claims against Dow. The Hendersons filed a petition for review to the Supreme Court, which was granted. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals that the Hendersons take nothing.

The heart of Chapter 95 are sections 95.002 and .003, which establishes Chapter 95’s applicability, and limitations on a property owner’s liability for personal injury, death, or property damage to independent contractors, respectively.

Regarding applicability, section 95.002 states that Chapter 95 “applies only to a claim.” A “claim” is specifically defined as “a claim for damages caused by negligence.” Section 95.002 then explains that Chapter 95 applies only to a claim for damages caused by negligence:

(1) against a property owner, contractor, or subcontractor for personal injury, death, or property damage to an owner, a contractor, or a subcontractor or an employee of a contractor or subcontractor; and
(2) that arises from the condition or use of an improvement to real property where the contractor or subcontractor constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies the improvement.

Section 95.003 establishes the limitations on a property owner’s liability for a claim to which Chapter 95 applies, and states:
A property owner is not liable for personal injury, death, or property damage to a contractor, subcontractor, or an employee of a contractor or subcontractor who constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies an improvement to real property, including personal injury, death, or property damage arising from the failure to provide a safe workplace unless:

(1) the property owner exercises or retains some control over the manner in which the work is performed, other than the right to order the work to start or stop or to inspect progress or receive reports; and
(2) the property owner had actual knowledge of the danger or condition resulting in the personal injury, death, or property damage and failed to adequately warn.

In short, a property owner is not liable for personal injury or death to a contractor, subcontractor, or employee of a contractor or subcontractor, while constructing, repairing, renovating, modifying, or improving the real property.

However, when a claim does not arise from a condition or use of an improvement to real property where the contractor or subcontractor constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies the improvement, Chapter 95 does not apply. In such a case the independent contractor or subcontractor can recover in common law negligence.

imgres

Charles E. Lobb, Jr. is a founding partner of Murray | Lobb, PLLC. Mr. Lobb focuses his practice in construction law and has authored and spoken at Construction Law Seminars. Should the situation arise he may be contacted at 281-488-0630 or at lobb@murray-lobb.com

Visit and Like our Facebook Page

Do Builders have Protection from Construction Defects?

hammer-sledgehammer-mallet-tool-medium

If you’re a builder who is hired by a lender after foreclosure to complete a home and are worried about prior construction defects, fear not, Texas law protects you. Section 59.011 (c) of the Texas Finance Code provides that a builder hired by a lender to complete the construction of a foreclosed home is not liable for any construction defects of which the builder had no knowledge that existed prior to the acquisition of the home by the lender.

However, the builder is subject to the Texas Residential Construction Act found in Chapter 27 of the Texas Property Code for the work it performed for the lender after acquisition of the home by the lender.

brush-painting-paint-brushes-8133-medium

This makes perfect sense and in laymen terms: a builder is not liable for the work done by another but is liable for his own work.