Indemnity Agreements and the Scope of the Duty to Defend per 5th Circuit Court–Texas Insurance Defense Attorneys

In Weeks Marine, Inc. v. Standard Concrete Products, Inc., 737 F.3d 365 (2013), the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed issues relating to indemnity agreements and  the scope of the duty to defend. The court discussed the  applicability of the “eight corners” rule, and concluded that there was no duty to indemnify where “the same reasons that negate the duty to defend likewise negate any possibility that the [indemnitor] will ever have a duty to indemnify”.

The court reviewed an Agreement, stating that the requirement under Texas law obligating the subcontractor to indemnify the general contractor only with respect to claims related to workmanship of the subcontractor’s product did not require the subcontractor to defend the general contractor in the underlying action brought by an employee of the subcontractor under the circumstances of this case.  Here, the action attributed the accident to the construction process used by the employee and his crew and, alternatively, the action alleged defects in certain steel modules that were a component that subcontractor used to make its product, but were not the subcontractor’s product itself.

The court stated that, unlike the duty to defend, the duty to indemnify “is triggered by the actual facts that establish liability in the underlying lawsuit.” Guar. Nat’l Ins. Co., 211 F.3d at 243. As a result, the court may consider facts outside of those alleged in the complaint to determine the scope of the duty to indemnify. Gilbane Bldg. Co., 664 F.3d at 594.

Under Texas law, the duties to defend and indemnify “are distinct and separate duties” and “enjoy a degree of independence from each other.” D.R. Horton–

Texas, Ltd. v. Markel Int’l Ins. Co., 300 S.W.3d 740, 743–44 (Tex.2009). The “duty to defend” is the broader of the two. Northfield Ins. Co. v. Loving Home Care, Inc., 363 F.3d 523, 528 (5th Cir.2004).

The duty to defend is “circumscribed by the eight-corners doctrine,” so that it is determined solely by the language of the indemnity provision and the allegations in the third-party pleadings. Gilbane Bldg. Co. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 664 F.3d 589, 594 (5th Cir.2011). Moreover, the court must review the third-party pleadings “without regard to the truth or falsity of those allegations.” GuideOne Elite Ins. Co. v. Fielder Rd. Baptist Church, 197 S.W.3d 305, 308 (Tex.2006). The duty to indemnify, by contrast, “is triggered by the actual facts that establish liability in the underlying lawsuit.” Guar. Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Azrock Indus. Inc., 211 F.3d 239, 243 (5th Cir.2000).

Williams, McClure & Parmelee is dedicated to high quality legal representation of businesses and insurance companies in a variety of matters. We are experienced Fort Worth, Texas insurance defense lawyers in Tarrant County who know Texas courts and Texas law. For more information, please contact the law firm at 817-335-8800. The firm’s office location is 5601 Bridge Street, Suite 300, Fort Worth, Texas 76112.

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