Co-Insurance, it’s a bit of a scrum

The Rugby Football Union v Clark Smith Partnership Limited & FM Conway Limited [2022] EWHC 956 (TCC)

This recent High Court decision once again shines a light on the tricky issue of co-insurance under project CAR policies, in particular the difficulties faced by contractors of all levels when trying to demonstrate the extent of cover in the face of a subrogated claim from project insurers.

It’s the most noteworthy judgment on the issues since Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation Trust in 2018 (which, as we’ve stated previously, is a bad decision for policyholders), and is a helpful refresh of the issues, if only to remind parties to construction projects to ensure that the contractual arrangements for any project accurately reflect the intention and authority of the party obtaining insurance cover for others.

Background

The Rugby Football Union (“RFU”) was undertaking significant works at Twickenham in 2012 in order to prepare for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. It engaged Clark Smith Partnership Limited (“Clark Smith”) to design buried ductwork which was to contain power cables, and FM Conway Limited (“Conway”) to install it. RFU and Conway contracted on the basis of a JCT Standard Building Contract without Quantities 2011 (“the JCT”), some of which (but importantly not all) was the subject of agreed amendments.

RFU asserted that the ductwork was defective which caused damage to the cables as they were pulled through (by a third party), which resulted in replacement costs of £3,334,405.26, for which it was indemnified by the project insurers, Royal & Sun Alliance Plc (“RSA”).

The project policy contained a DE3 standard form defects exclusion, which meant that the cost of addressing the defective ductwork was excluded, but the remedial cost of the consequential damage to the cables was covered.

RSA sought to recover those sums from Conway (and Clark Smith) in a subrogated recovery action on the basis that the damage had been caused by its defective workmanship. In response, Conway issued Part 8 proceedings seeking a declaration that it was a co-insured under the project policy and that it had the benefit of cover to the same extent as RFU (as principal insured), which prevented RSA from bringing the subrogated claim against it.

Issues

In relation to the claim brought by RSA (in relation to which it stood in RFU’s shoes), Mr Justice Eyre was asked to consider whether the sums paid by RSA to RFU were irrecoverable because RSA could not exercise subrogation rights and/ or on a proper analysis of the project policy and/ or the contract documents that RFU and/ or RSA were not entitled to claim the insured losses.

The judgment contains a very useful summary of the law regarding co-insurance to date, including the basis on which subrogated claims between parties to an insurance policy can be barred by reason of circuity of action (Co-operative Retail Services Ltd [2002] UKHL 17) and the basis on which one insured may obtain cover for another (Gard Marine & Energy Ltd [2017] UKSC 35).  However, the key aspect here was not the existence of cover in the first place, but the extent of that cover for a co-insured.

The specific consideration here was whether Conway had the benefit of the full cover under the project policy, which provided cover for damage to other property insured caused by Conway’s defective works, or whether its cover was restricted to damage caused by Specified Perils as provided for by the unamended part of the JCT.

Mr Justice Eyre was at pains to stress (guided by the above authorities, but also National Oilwell (UK) Ltd [1993] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 582) that the contract is key when determining the intention and authority of the principal insured when securing cover, stating:

“74. What is important is that the authorities are clear that in order to determine whether the insurance cover which a policy effected by, in my example, the employer or contractor applies to the contractor or sub-contractor and if to what extent (with the latter point determining the extent to which they are co-insured) it is necessary to look to the terms of the contract between those parties. It is those terms which provide the key to the existence and extent of the insurance cover.”

“88. …  when a person becomes a party as a consequence of the actions of another person then the terms of the contract between the insured party and that other govern the extent of the insurance”

In relation to the intention and authority of RFU, Mr Justice Eyre found (despite witness evidence to the contrary relied on by Conway, that the insurance obtained by RFU was intended to be more extensive than envisaged by the JCT), that the contract documents read together (including the JCT) did not demonstrate an intention for the project policy to create a fund which would be the sole remedy for loss suffered by RFU as a consequence of a breach by Conway.

Whilst Conway was an insured under the project policy, the extent of that cover was that as envisaged in the JCT and no wider, such that it was not a co-insured in relation to the damage for which RSA had indemnified RFU. He went on to find (again consistent with National Oilwell) that the waiver of subrogation clause in the policy only related to the matters for which Conway had cover under the policy, and so didn’t prevent a claim by RSA.

Comment

This judgment doesn’t alter the previous state of the law in this area, but is a salutary reminder to make sure that the contractual documents are in line with the expectations of the parties.

Mr Justice Eyre indicated that “compelling evidence to counter the inferences from the natural reading” of the JCT may have altered the result (which is in line with the “other admissible material” referred to in National Oilwell), but that evidence was not present here. Rather, the judge found it “surprising” that the JCT was subject to amendment elsewhere, but not in relation to the insurance for the works. If the parties had intended the extent of cover to be different from that envisaged by the unamended JCT, then presumably it would have been simple enough to reflect that in an amended version of the JCT. The absence of those amendments seems to have been an important consideration in relation to the parties’ intentions.

If there’s an intention for members of the project team to have a benefit under any project policy, it is vital that the underlying contractual documents accurately reflect the full extent of the principal insured’s intention and authority in that regard.

Rob Goodship is a Senior Associate at Fenchurch Law


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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. #16 (The Good). Technology Holdings Ltd v IAG New Zealand Ltd [2008]

Welcome to the latest in the series of blogs from Fenchurch Law: 100 cases every policyholder needs to know. An opinionated and practical guide to the most important insurance decisions relating to the London / English insurance markets, all looked at from a pro-policyholder perspective.

Some cases are correctly decided and positive for policyholders. We celebrate those cases as The Good.

Some cases are, in our view, bad for policyholders, wrongly decided, and in need of being overturned. We highlight those decisions as The Bad.

Other cases are bad for policyholders but seem (even to our policyholder-tinted eyes) to be correctly decided. Those cases can trip up even the most honest policyholder with the most genuine claim. We put the hazard lights on those cases as The Ugly.

#16 (The Good)

The Good

In another useful decision for policyholders under CAR policies (see our earlier article regarding ‘The Orjula’), but also damage policies generally, the High Court of New Zealand found (at para 65 of its judgment) that damage (as distinct from physical damage) can be established by one of more of:

a) a material risk to insured property which did not exist before the relevant event;

b) an event which rendered the insured property not fit for its intended use; and/ or

c) the possibility of malfunction during use as a result of the relevant event, which would require the insured property to be dismantled to determine the risk.

Whilst this authority isn’t binding on an English court, it would certainly be persuasive and the last category in particular is helpful to policyholders seeking cover for damage, as the mere possibility of malfunction which itself has not occurred would trigger cover under a policy responding to damage based on this authority.

The decision

The claimant supplied credit card terminals to retailers, 2,051 of which were stored in a basement that flooded on 7 February 2005. All of the containers in which the terminals were stored came into contact with flood water (but only around a quarter of the terminals themselves), and all containers were exposed to increased humidity. The claimant claimed under its Business Assets insurance policy (“the Policy”) for loss or damage to all of the terminals, the insuring clause in the Policy stating:

If during the Period of Insurance specified in the Schedule there happens Loss or Damage unintended and unforeseen by the Insured, except as may be excluded, to the PROPERTY AND EXPENSES INSURED, then the Insurers will indemnify the Insured in respect of such Loss or Damage as expressed in the BASIS OF LOSS SETTLEMENT and in addition the Insurers will indemnify the Insured in the manner and to the extent separately stated herein.

Despite being capitalised terms, Loss and Damage were not defined in the Policy. The claimant’s claim was accepted in relation to the terminals which came into direct contact with flood water, but insurers declined cover for the remaining terminals on the basis that they were neither lost nor damaged.

The court was asked to consider whether the insuring clause had been triggered in relation to the other terminals stored in the basement, essentially whether they were damaged because the manufacturer of the terminals had withdrawn its warranty and / or because the operator of the terminals’ intended network had refused to permit those units to be connected because of the risk that they would malfunction.

The claimant relied on expert evidence which included that it was standard industry practice for manufacturers to dismantle terminals returned to it to ensure their continued security and reliability following suspected damage. This, coupled with the low cost of producing terminals compared with the higher cost to dismantle, meant that terminals were often written off/ disposed of rather than being repaired.

The court’s analysis included a discussion concerning the difference between “physical damage” on the one hand and “damage” on the other, and concluded that the parties had intended the Policy to have the wider, unqualified damage cover, as opposed to cover being restricted to physical damage.

There was a detailed discussion of the damage authorities, including Transfield and Quorum AS, but most notably Ranicar v Frigmobile Pty Ltd, which the court regarded as the leading authority on “damage” in an insurance context. That case concerned scallops which could no longer be exported as they were temporarily and accidentally stored above -18 degrees Celsius, with that change in temperature being enough to constitute the physical change required to trigger cover for damage under the relevant insurance policy.  The court in Ranicar held that whereas “physical damage” may require a permanent and irreversible change in physical condition, “damage” could occur when an adverse change in physical condition was both transient and reversible.

Deciding the Technology Holdings case, Woodhouse J (quoting a leading insurance text) said that the essence of Ranicar in relation to damage was that “it is normally sufficient if the damage is in the form of diminution in value or functionality”, but that element was not enough by itself – for damage something must happen to the property itself followed by the impairment in value or usefulness.

Applying Ranicar to the terminals which did not directly come into contact with flood water, Woodhouse J said that:

“…there was an occurrence – the flooding – which was unintended and unforeseen by the insured and which happened to the property. Following this event, which may or may not be similar to the temperature rise in Ranicar, the plaintiff found it could not sell the units. For the reasons discussed, I am satisfied that, if the plaintiff cannot prove that the units were “physically damaged”, there nevertheless will have been “damage to the property” for the purposes of the plaintiff’s Business Assets insurance policy if the plaintiff can establish the following: Because the units were stored in premises affected by flooding the units would malfunction during use in the network on a date earlier than the date on which the units would normally be withdrawn from use and in consequence they are not fit for their intended use”.

Comment

In addition to helping to cement Ranicar’s status as a leading authority on damage in the insurance context, it arguably goes one step further by holding that the mere possibility of malfunction was sufficient to constitute damage where that risk impacting on value or usefulness.  The logic of the decision is sound, and merely extends existing principles rather than taking an entirely new approach, and the decision is certainly Good for policyholders.

Rob Goodship is a Senior Associate at Fenchurch Law


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Webinar - Traps for Contractors and their Brokers

Practical issues to be aware of for those dealing with CAR and Contract Works policies, including the correct trigger for damage, when a defect may constitute damage and an overview of the two leading suites of defect exclusion clauses.

Rob Goodship is a Senior Associate at Fenchurch Law