June 27, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Insurer Required to Pay Portion of Costs Regardless of Whether Coverage Existed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mt. Hawley Insurance Co. v. Casson Duncan Construction, Inc. on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

Insurance—Partial Summary Judgment.

A homeowners association (HOA) sued developer Mountain View Homes III (MVH III) and general contractor Casson Duncan Construction Inc. (Casson Duncan) on defective construction claims. In arbitration, MVH III’s insurer, Mt. Hawley Insurance Co. (Mt. Hawley), defended under a reservation of rights. The arbitration resulted in awards of damages and taxable costs to the HOA. Casson Duncan paid the costs award, for which it and MVH III were jointly liable, and thereafter sought contribution from MVH III and Mt. Hawley.

Mt. Hawley initiated this action against MVH III, the HOA, and Casson Duncan, requesting a declaration that there was no coverage under its commercial general liability policies with MVH III for either the costs or damages awarded in the arbitration. Casson Duncan filed a counterclaim for declaratory and monetary relief against Mt. Hawley for payment of MVH III’s portion of the costs award. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on coverage issues. The district court denied summary judgment on all but one issue: it determined that Mt. Hawley was, as a matter of law, responsible for paying MVH III’s portion of the cost award, regardless of whether it was also responsible for paying its portion of the damages award. This partial summary judgment ruling was certified as “final” for purposes of permitting appellate review.

On appeal, Mt. Hawley argued that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment because Mt. Hawley’s responsibility for paying costs was inextricably linked to the question of whether the policies provided MVH III with coverage for the HOA’s claims, and because the coverage issues had not been determined, the costs issues could not be determined either. The court of appeals interpreted the policies to decide the issue. The insurance policies had standard “coverages” and “exclusions” sections and provided that the insurance company would pay “[a]ll costs taxed against the insured in the ‘suit,’” where “suit” clearly covered the arbitration proceeding. The obligation to pay costs was not linked to coverage but simply to the defense of the case. Because Mt. Hawley conducted MVH III’s defense in the arbitration proceedings, it was obligated to pay MVH III’s portion of taxable costs.

Mt. Hawley also argued that its reservation of rights letter superseded the policies’ costs provisions. A reservation of rights does not destroy the insured’s rights or create new rights in the insurer. The Colorado case law exception to this principle applies to defense costs, and defense costs are different from costs taxed against an insured.

Lastly, Mt. Hawley asserted that the court’s interpretation of the policies leads to absurd results. Mt. Hawley agreed in its policies to pay all costs taxed against MVH III in suits in which it defended MVH III. If Mt. Hawley wanted to avoid the result here, it could have changed the language in its policy regarding coverage of such costs.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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