Insurer has no duty to defend contractor in worker injury case


A general liability insurer has no duty to defend a “pro bono” contractor for the injuries a church worker sustained on its job site, an appellate court held Tuesday.

In Mid-Continent Casualty Co. v. Arpin & Sons LLC, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously affirmed a district court’s ruling that the contractor was considered the employer of the worker for workers compensation purposes and fell outside of the duty to defend provisions of the general liability insurance policy.

Faith Deliverance Church in Miami entered into a verbal agreement with a licensed Florida general contractor, Arpin & Sons LLC, to perform “pro bono” work on its construction project building a senior citizen housing unit. Arpin maintained a workers compensation policy from Vinings Insurance Co. and a general liability insurance policy from Mid-Continent Casualty Co.

During construction, church employee Lee Blue came into contact with an electrified bucket of concrete and sustained severe, permanent injuries. Arpin filed a workers compensation claim for Mr. Blue, which was accepted, and Vinings continued to pay indemnity for at least six years. However, Mr. Blue filed a lawsuit against Arpin alleging that the contractor was negligent in its operation of the site. April sought indemnity from Mid-Continent Casualty, which argued that its policy excluded coverage for bodily injury to an employee arising out of and in the course of employment.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida concluded as a matter of law that the insurer owed Arpin no duty to defend because of the exclusion. Arpin and Mr. Blue appealed.

The circuit court affirmed the decision. Although Arpin and Mr. Blue argued that Arpin served only nominally as general contractor, the circuit court disagreed, finding that Arpin was responsible to the property owner, conducted inspections and assumed some liability for the safety of workers on the project via its workers compensation policy.

The circuit court found that the district court correctly determined that Arpin was Mr. Blue’s statutory employer and that his injuries were excepted from coverage under the general liability policy.

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