How To Manage Your Mold Liability
Traditionally, contractors protect themselves from claims for bodily injury and property claims by general liability insurance, and from claims for work defects with bonds. Much has changed, at least as far as mold goes. Insurance offers little to no liability protection, and bonds, none at all.
Of course, contractors need to discuss these topics with their attorneys and insurance agents.
The bottom line on mold liability coverage, said Smith: You probably can’t get coverage, but you should at least try to get some.
“The law is a complex beast,” he said. “In simplified terms, [the policy cancellations are] a knee-jerk reaction on the part of insurance companies.” That doesn’t change the fact that mold coverage isn’t largely available.
Are negotiations possible? “You have no bargaining power,” said Smith. Keep in mind, however, that ambiguous terms in policies can be resolved in the insured’s favor.
Mold ExclusionsMost insurance companies are excluding mold due to the cost of legal defense, the number of judgments and settlements, and lack of knowledge on the subject, Smith explained.
In addition, there are no federal or state standards on acceptable levels of mold exposure. Nor are there widely accepted standards/ procedures/methods of mold remediation, he said.
In some cases, Smith said contractors are filing bad-faith suits against their insurance companies for not living up to terms of the contract. However, most exclusions are very difficult to fight.
In “absolute” or blanket exclusions, unambiguous exclusions (“under no circumstances …”) are enforceable. Absolute mold exclusions essentially state, “We will not cover any mold claims at all.”
Ways Around Exclusions
If the company doesn’t have specific mold exclusions, general policy coverage could have exclusions and definitions that may limit mold coverage. Smith called these a “quagmire of legalese.” You may need the guidance of a lawyer to get through them.
Bottom line: Even if your general liability policy (GLP) doesn’t have a specific mold exclusion, its standard exclusions and term definitions may limit mold coverage. Basically, Smith said, a GLP will cover personal injury or property damage to a third person that is caused by the insured’s negligence. There are exceptions and exclusions to this general rule.
Also, each policy needs to be interpreted and read using its own language and definitions. “Sit down with your attorney and go through your policy,” Smith said. “Have him explain the definitions.”
A mold claim may or may not be covered, depending on how certain words are defined in your policy, he continued. Therefore, when looking at a policy, discuss definitions of words defined in the policy with your attorney for possible meaning and application to mold issues.
Here are some general definitions:
Occurrence — Something that just happens. A broad definition of occurrence is the most favorable.
Property damage — Again, look for a broad definition.
Bodily injury — Look for a broad definition.
Pollution/pollutant — Look for narrow definitions. In this case, the narrower, the better.
Your work/product — In essence, you want these to be narrow definitions.
Here are some definitions of exclusions as they relate to mold:
Pollution — The good news is that some states have addressed this issue and found that mold does not fall under pollution exclusion. The bad news is that in response to this, insurance companies are now defining “pollutant” and “pollution” to include mold and mold spores.
Your work/product — Bodily injury and property damage are covered in the general contract; faulty work is not. “It’s not a surety for your work,” Smith said.
Punitive damages — Actual damages reimburse for the actual cost to replace a sofa, etc.; punitive damages are levied to teach someone a lesson. “Get covered for punitive damages if you can,” said Smith. “That can be a big hit.”
Tips To ConsiderSmith suggests you ask your insurer about:
Don’t forget to read all policies with your attorney; get him or her to explain their possible meaning, Smith advised.
The consequences of not having any type of mold liability insurance, he added, is that the contractor can be held liable for damages and must provide his own defense.
“A corporate shield can protect you,” Smith said. “They can’t take away your house or car. I would advise you getting one. But it’s not impervious.”
Smith emphasized that insurance “probably will not offer you very much protection from mold claims. There’s still coverage out there, but it’s going away quickly.
“Your insurance agent and attorney are your only hope when it comes to obtaining insurance coverage,” if it’s possible.
First, talk to your insurance agent, who is the expert on insurance products, Smith said. Then talk to your attorney, the expert on what the policies might mean.
Here’s what can be done, according to Smith:
Finally, don’t give up hope. “The pendulum will swing back.”
Publication date: 01/27/2003