No Defense Because of Six Month Delay

No Defense Because of Six Month Delay

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IHC Construction Companies, LLC (“IHC”) and MA Rebar Services, Inc. (“MA Rebar”), appealed a final summary judgment entered in favor of Westfield Insurance Company (“Westfield”) in Westfield’s declaratory judgment action against IHC, MA Rebar, and Wayne McClure.   In  Westfield Insurance Company v. MA Rebar Services, Inc., IHC Construction Companies, LLC, and Wayne Kelly McClure, No. 1-23-0161, 2023 IL App (1st) 230161-U, Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division (July 27, 2023) the Court of Appeals resolved the dispute.


In 2016 IHC was the general contractor for a municipal construction project (“the Project”) and that IHC had hired MA Rebar as a subcontractor on the Project. As a condition of its subcontract, MA Rebar was required to obtain liability insurance. In accordance with the subcontract, MA Rebar obtained the required insurance from Westfield and provided IHC with a certificate of insurance confirming such compliance.

Wayne McClure filed a complaint against IHC alleging that he was injured as a result of IHC’s negligence while working on the Project as an employee of MA Rebar. IHC promptly notified its insurance carrier, Hartford Insurance Company, of the suit, but it did not provide any notice to Westfield at that time. In July 2018, IHC filed a motion to dismiss McClure’s complaint. After the circuit court denied the motion in October 2018, IHC filed a third-party complaint against MA Rebar seeking indemnification and contribution.

Approximately three months later MA Rebar notified Westfield of IHC’s third-party complaint against it. Westfield then sued for declaratory judgment  seeking declarations (1) that it has no duty to defend and indemnify MA Rebar and (2) that it owed no coverage obligation to IHC due to the six-month delay between the time that IHC learned of the McClure lawsuit and the time that Westfield received notice of the suit.

The circuit court issued a final order granting Westfield’s motion for summary judgment and denying IHC and MA Rebar’s cross-motion.

The focus of the present dispute is IHC’s compliance with a notice requirement in MA Rebar’s insurance policy with Westfield, for which IHC was listed an additional insured. The relevant policy language in this case provides that an insured is required to “[immediately send [Westfield] copies of any demands, notices, summonses or legal papers received in connection with [a] claim or ‘suit.’” ” ‘Immediate’ in this context ‘has been uniformly interpreted to mean within a reasonable time, taking into consideration all the facts and circumstances.’” Zurich Insurance Co. v. Walsh Construction Co. of Illinois, Inc., 352 Ill.App.3d 504, 512 (2004)

The circuit court below determined that IHC’s notice to Westfield was untimely because IHC had not provided a justifiable excuse for its three- to six-month delay in notifying Westfield of McClure’s claim.

IHC failed to provide Westfield with notice of the suit for six months after it received service of the complaint. IHC’s only justification for the delay in providing notice is that it was attempting to negate the need for insurance coverage by seeking dismissal of the case, but that does not justify the delay.

Westfield was entitled to be informed of the suit “immediately,” precisely to allow it to participate in defense actions like motions to dismiss.  IHC denied Westfield that contractual right by withholding notice while pursuing the motion to dismiss.

The court concluded that the Insured failed to comply with the terms of an insurance policy notice provision requiring “immediate” notice of any claims when the insurer did not receive notice of a lawsuit against the insured until six months after service of the complaint on the insured.

The insured tried to reduce its premium, by moving to dismiss without reporting a claim, found itself to be its own worst enemy. Its scheme to save future premium increases resulted only to eliminate its insurance for McClure’s claimed injury and lost over $10 million in available coverage and the unlimited defense costs. Ignorance can be cured but stupid attempts to save insurance premiums is not curable.

(c) 2023 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.