The Illinois Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment entered for the insurer and found the general contractor, an additional insured under the policy, was entitled to a defense. Hastings Mut. Ins. Co. v. Blinderman Constr. Co., Inc., 2017 Ill. App. LEXIS 661 (Ill. Ct. App. Oct. 24, 2017).
Blinderman was the general contractor on a construction project for an elementary school. Blinderman hired JM Polcurr, Inc. to do the electrical work on the project. By contract, Polcurr was obligated to purchase a policy naming Blinderman as an additional insured for Polcurr's work on the project. Polcurr purchased the policy.
Polcurr's employee, Robert Woods, suffered a serious injury at work on the project. A court appointed Wood's daughter to serve as guardian for Woods and his estate.
The Estate of Woods sued Blinderman, alleging that Woods fell from a ladder while working for Polcurr. The complaint alleged that Blinderman failed to provide a safe platform for the work and failed to properly supervise the work. Blinderman tendered the defense to Polcurr's insurer, Hastings Mutual Insurance Company. Hastings rejected the tender based upon the following language in its policy:
With respect to the insurance afforded to these additional insureds, the following exclusions apply:
. . .
Liability arising out of the sole negligence of the additional insured or by those acting on behalf of the additional insured.
Blinderman filed a third-party complaint against Polcurr, arguing that Polcurr should pay a share of any liability assessed against Blinderman because Polcurr failed to inspect the premises, improperly maintained Woods' work area, failed to warn Woods of dangerous conditions, and permitted Woods to use an unstable ladder without appropriate safety equipment.
Hastings then filed suit seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Blinderman for its potential liability in the underlying case. Blinderman and Hastings both filed motions for summary judgment.
Blinderman supported its motion with its third-party complaint against Polcurr and depositions of two Polcurr employees. The employees testified that Blinderman gave no directions to Polcurr employee about their work. Polcurr employees, including Woods, used only Polcurr equipment.
Nevertheless, the trial court held it could not consider the allegations of the third-party complaint when determining whether Hastings had a duty to defend Blinderman. The court further held that the exclusion for liability arising from Blinderman's sole negligence applied, and Hastings had no duty to defend Blinderman because the underlying complaint did not allege that Polcurr acted negligently. Blinderman appealed.
The appellate court noted that Hastings had the burden of showing that Blinderman's liability arose out of the sole negligence of Blinderman or those acting on Blinderman's behalf and not from the negligent acts or omissions of Polcurr.
In the underlying case, the Estate of Woods did not specifically allege that Polcurr's acts or omissions cuased the injury. But the estate did not expect to recover damages from Polcurr and had no reason to include allegations about the acts or omissions of Polcurr. The complaint's silence concerning Polcurr's acts or omissions did not suffice to meet Hastings' burden of showing the Polcurr's acts or omissions did not contribute to causing the injury.
Further, Blinderman's third-party complaint aginst Polcurr included allegations consistent with the Estate's complaint, showing how Polcurr's acts or omissions might have contributed to causing Woods' injury. However, Blinderman would need to rely on those pleadings only if it bore the burden of proving that Polcurr's acts or omissions might have contributed to causing Woods' injury. Because the Estate's complaint included no allegations about Polcurr's acts or omissions, Hastings did not meet its burden of proving that Blinderman's liability in the underlying case arose out of Blinderman's sole negligence.
The summary judgment entered on behalf of Hastings was reversed.