Tag: Damages

Supreme Court Rules Against Broad Application of Indemnity Provision in Engineer’s Contract

The Supreme Court ruling in Couvillion Group, LLC v. Plaquemines Parish Government, 2020 -00074 (La. 4/27/20) is a reminder that an indemnity claim must be sufficiently related to the principal demand and that contract indemnity provisions are to be strictly construed.

In Couvillion, the general contractor sued the owner of a public works port project for contract delay damages resulting from a cease work order issued to allow redesign of a fuel tank platform. When the contractor submitted its delay claim, the owner requested that its project engineer review it and make recommendations. The engineer recommended payment of a little over $1 million dollars. When the owner refused to pay, the contractor sued. In response, the owner filed a third-party demand against the engineer alleging that its recommendation was erroneous and excessive and that, if it was bound by the engineer’s recommendation, then the engineer must indemnify the owner.

On behalf of the engineer, Keogh Cox attorneys argued that the engineer should not be required to reimburse the owner for any delay costs and asked for dismissal through an exception of no cause of action. Code of Procedure Article 1111 provides that a defendant in a principal action may bring in any person who may be liable to him for all or part of the principal demand. Here, that was not the situation. The engineer was not liable to the owner for any part of the contractor’s delay claim because the engineer did not cause the delay. The delay damages were incurred before the engineer made a recommendation for payment. The events giving rise to the two claims were separate and distinct: the main demand arose from the project delay and the third- party demand arose from the engineer’s recommendation of the claim amount. The Court commented that the principal claim against the owner for delay damages was too attenuated from the owner’s claim against the engineer, thus the third-party demand was improper.

The owner also relied on the indemnity provision in the engineer’s contract that required the engineer to indemnify the owner against any and all claims for personal injury or “damages to property” that may arise from its services. The Court held that the plain meaning of the term did not include the economic-only losses related to the subject delay claim. The Court further reasoned that indemnity agreements are to be strictly construed, rejecting the owner’s broader interpretation.

No Pay, No Play: What is it and why does it matter?

Louisiana’s automobile insurance premiums are some of the highest in the United States. With so many other demands on driver’s wallets, it may seem tempting to simply not purchase a liability automobile policy, even if it is required by Louisiana law. Louisiana’s “No Pay, No Play” statute, LA-R.S. 32:866, is intended to fight that temptation. See Progressive Sec. Ins. Co. v. Foster, 1997-2985 (La. 4/23/98), 711 So.2d 675. Below are some key considerations for drivers and insurers on either side of a potential “No Pay, No Play” dispute.

For Drivers

The “No Pay, No Play” statute means just what it seems—if you do not pay for your own liability insurance, you cannot recover under someone else’s liability insurance even if the accident is not your fault … at least to a point.

Specifically, the “No Pay, No Play” statute precludes someone who does not have liability insurance from recovering from another driver’s policy (1) the first $15,000 of bodily injury damages and (2) the first $25,000 of property damage. Of course, if damages do not exceed these amounts, it means the uninsured driver cannot recover his or her damage at all.

Of course, some exceptions exist. For example, the statute does not apply (meaning, it does reduce the plaintiff driver’s recovery) if the other driver is cited for operating his or her vehicle while intoxicated and is convicted or pleads nolo contendere; if the other driver intentionally causes the accident; if the other driver flees the scene; or if the other driver is in furtherance of the commission of a felony. However, the off-chance that a driver falls into an exception should not outweigh the obligation to comply with Louisiana law.

For Insurers

Generally, liability insurers should assert the “No Pay, No Play” affirmative defense when it appears a plaintiff driver lacks liability insurance. However, insurers should also keep in mind that this defense also has limitations.

For instance, the “No Pay, No Play” statute is not necessarily a total bar to a plaintiff’s recovery. If damages exceed $15,000 for bodily injury and/or $25,000 for property damage, payment may still be owed for these excess damages.

Secondly, the party asserting the “No Pay, No Play” affirmative defense—usually a defendant insurer—bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff driver lacked insurance coverage on the vehicle he or she was operating at the time of the incident.

This burden can sometimes present difficult issues. For instance, in Johnson v. Henderson, 2004-1723 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/16/05), 899 So.2d 626, the plaintiff was operating a vehicle he did not own. The defendant failed to yield and struck the plaintiff’s car.  The defendant and his insurer asserted the affirmative defense under “No Pay, No Play.”

The facts of the case suggest the vehicle that the plaintiff was operating was not insured, but plaintiff paid his “premiums” to the owners of the vehicle, had an ostensibly valid insurance card, and believed he was insured. The court found that the defendants failed to carry their burden of establishing a lack of coverage. As a result, the insurer owed the plaintiff the full amount of his damages—a total of $5,855.00 that would otherwise have been precluded under the statute.  

The “No Pay, No Play” issue is easily avoided: Louisiana drivers should get the insurance required by the statute. Failure to do so runs the risk of discounting (and potentially barring) recovery for accidents that are not the driver’s fault.