A recent opinion of the United State Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit addressed a multitude of issues presented in litigation involving commercial general liability policies – the “your work” exclusion, late notice, and the duty to indemnify.
On March 29, 2012, in Jessco, Inc. v. Builders Mutual Insurance Co., the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, thereby finding that Builders Mutual Insurance Co. (“BMIC”) had a duty to defend Jessco, Inc. (“Jessco”) in the underlying construction-defect action, but BMIC was not obligated to indemnify Jessco for the re-grading allowance it paid to the underlying plaintiff homeowners.
The arbitrator’s determination that Jessco’s work was not the proximate cause of the flooding necessarily amounted to a rejection of any negligence-based claim asserted against Jessco. See, e.g., Hurd v. Williamsburg Cnty., 579 S.E.2d 136, 144 (S.C. Ct. App. 2003) (“It is apodictic that a plaintiff may only recover for injuries proximately caused by the defendant’s negligence.”). While there may have been some negligent conduct by Jessco, the proximate-cause determination means that Jessco could not have been held accountable to a third-party for that negligence. See, e.g., Howard v. Riddle, 221 S.E.2d 865, 866 (S.C. 1976) (“Plaintiff must show, as a matter of law, not only that defendant was negligent but also that his negligence was a contributing or proximate cause of the injury . . . .” (internal quotation marks omitted)).