Insurer must defend contractor in electrocution

An insurer that covered a subcontractor must defend the contractor in the electrocution death of a subcontractor employee, an Illinois federal district court ruled Monday.

Columbus, Ohio-based State Auto Property & Casualty Insurance Co. issued an insurance policy to Centralia, Illinois-based Rock Branch Ironworks Inc. for the policy period April 2018 to April 2019, according to the ruling by the U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Illinois, in State Auto Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Shores Builders Inc. v. Rock Branch Ironworks Inc.

Rock Branch entered into a subcontract agreement with Centralia-based Shores and agreed to name Shores as an additional insured on its policy and to indemnify Shores in connection with Rock Branch’s services, the ruling said.

In September 2018, Rock Branch employee Matthew Smith was fatally electrocuted while on the job, and his survivors filed suit against Shores and others in his death. The litigation charged Shores was negligent on grounds including its failure to ensure Rock Branch was competent to perform its work, and that Shores had failed to inspect the equipment rock Branch used on the project.

Litigation ensured after State Auto refused to defend Shores in the survivors’ lawsuit.

“To find that an insurer owes a duty to defend an additional insured based on the additional insured’s potential vicarious liability, two requirements must be met,” the ruling said. “First, there must be a potential finding that the named insured was negligent and, second, there must be a potential for holding the additional insured vicariously liable” for the named insured’s negligence, the ruling said.

“Under the amended underlying complaint, the first requirement is met because Smith’s successors allege that Rock Branch negligently and carelessly provided Smith with unsafe electrical equipment – including welding leads and cords that had exposed or insulated wiring,” the ruling said.

“The second requirement is met because Smith continues by alleging that Shores, as the general contractor, exercised control over Rock Branch such that shores was liable for Rock Branch’s negligent acts and omissions,” the ruling said, in concluding State Auto has a duty to defend Shores in the case.

State Auto’s attorney had no comment while other attorneys in the case did not respond to a request for comment.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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