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Insurance Firm Under No Duty to Defend in Hawaii Construction Defect Case

September 13, 2012 — CDJ Staff

The US District Court for Hawaii has granted a motion for summary judgment in Evanston Insurance v. Nagano. The case is related to a construction defect claim, Hu v. Nagano, and the issue at hand is whether Evanston Insurance is obligated to defend the Naganos in the underlying case.

The Hus hired Eric Nagano and his firm PMX to construct a house. Mr. Nagano’s firm was insured by Evanston, however, he lost his contractor’s license in “approximately March 2006.” Mr. Nagano sought the Hus’ authorization to allow HC Builders to take over the contract. HC Builders is headed by Mr. Nagano’s wife, Hiroko, who has held a contractor’s license since “approximately September 2006.” Ms. Nagano and HC Builders were also insured by Evanston Insurance. The house, started by PMX was finished by HC Builders.

The Hus authorized construction to begin in July 2003, but “construction did not commence until approximately October 2004 and, even after commencement, there were numerous delays resulting in months of inactivity on the Project.” The Hus had expressed to Mr. Nagano and PMX “that the construction period could not exceed twelve months after July 1, 2003.” As a result of the delays, “the Hus’ community association fined them because of the prolonged construction and the Hus’ construction lender assessed extension fees and fines for exceeding the term of the loan.”

The Hus noted that the project did not have a licensed contractor from March through September 2006. In the end, the Hus “allege that Defendants did not fulfill the obligations under the Construction Contract,” and that “the Project was ‘grossly delayed’ and the construction was ‘riddled with defects.’” Despite an Owner’s Notice of Completion filed in December 2007, the residence “had no electricity, no hot water, ... no installed appliances” and “parts of the flooring were either missing or incomplete.” And then it leaked.

The Naganos tendered the defense to Evanston. The Naganos “allege the defense is limited because Evanston: allowed default to be entered against the Naganos (the default was later set aside); delayed retaining experts; and limited the ability of the Naganos’ retained counsel to perform necessary actions to advance the case.” Evanston argues that it “does not have a duty to defend or indemnify Defendants against the Hus’ claims,” as the Hus’ claims are not covered under the policy. Further, the PMX policies have an exclusion for breach of contract.

The court concluded that all of the claims made by the Hus were based in contract and therefore were outside of the terms of the Naganos insurance coverage, as the courts have "construed Hawaii law as not providing for insurance coverage for contract related claims." Therefore, Evanston does not have a duty to defend the Naganos.

Read the court’s decision…

Insurance Firm Under No Duty to Defend in Hawaii Construction Defect Case