Making Contracts Work for You – Part 4 – Contracts: Insurance Provisions

  • July 11, 2018

Insurance

I can already hear it — you know what insurance is.  However, did you know that a promise to procure insurance for another party can sometimes equal an obligation to cover the loss the insurance would have provided if you don’t procure it?  In other words, if you promise to insure another party in conjunction with a commercial agreement, you become the insurer if the agreed-to coverage is not purchased.  For this reason, insurance provisions in commercial agreements can have enormous financial consequences, particularly when a loss occurs which would have been covered by insurance required by the agreement.  As is often the case with indemnity provisions, insurance clauses are sometimes drawn from old, unrelated agreements, and your contract might wind up with unfair or insufficient insurance provisions.  Make sure the insurance clause fits the deal.

Conclusion

Next time you negotiate a commercial agreement, make sure that you are best protecting yourself and avoiding unintended financial risks by including appropriate warranty, indemnity and insurance provisions that reflect your intentions and are enforceable under the state law selected in the agreement.  Happy contracting.

Read more in the 4-part Making Contracts Work for You, where we discuss various ways that you can strengthen your commercial contracts, so that in the case of a dispute, your contract works on your behalf. Part 1- Boilerplates, Part 2-Warranties , Part 3-Idemnity Provisions

Making Contracts Work for You – Part 3 – Contracts: Indemnity Provisions

  • July 11, 2018

Indemnity Provisions

Indemnity or “hold harmless” clauses are another way of allocating financial risk to a particular party in a transaction.  Indemnity clauses require one party to bear the cost of certain risks defined in the contract, which can range from particular losses, lawsuits, or even non-conformance with prescribed warranties.  Most commercial agreements should have some form of indemnity clause, in which one party agrees to defend (i.e., hire a lawyer) and indemnify (reimburse) the other party for the risks described.

We find that indemnity clauses are often one-sided, and sometimes taken from unrelated contracts, so that the risks which ought to be negotiated and indemnified are overlooked, while the indemnity clause as written produces results which the parties never contemplated. For example, Party A would not expect to find a clause that lays the costs of Party B’s fault back upon Party A. Yet that kind of result can happen when indemnity clauses are not carefully negotiated and drafted.

Indemnity clauses can be quite complex, including provisions regarding the selection and control of the attorneys who will defend the claim.  A well-drafted indemnity clause will include a provision that the benefited party will be entitled to their reasonable expenses incurred to pay the indemnified loss, and any settlement, judgment and defense costs.

Losses are not always caused by one person or one discrete act or omission.  Events like construction site accidents and other industrial accidents are often the result of a combination of factors.  Environmental contamination can have multiple causes spread over decades. In such cases, the wording of an indemnity clause can make a big difference.

The legal effect of an indemnity clause is usually a question of state law.  Different states have varying rules for interpreting and enforcing indemnity clauses.  Therefore, the state law selected in the agreement can have a major effect on the results produced by the indemnity clause.  Some states require particular wording in an indemnity clause before a court will shift the risk of a loss from one party to another.  If  the contracting parties intend to shift the risk of one party’s “active” negligence to the other, such an intent will often need to be specifically spelled out or the indemnity clause will not be given that effect.

Most or all states have limitations on the kinds of liabilities that may be indemnified, and some even have special statutes that change the rules in particular settings, such as construction contracts, for example.  Indeed, California courts have at times distinguished between “Type I,”  “Type II” and Type III” indemnity clauses. (I will spare you those details.)

Ultimately, the effect of an indemnity clause will turn on the state law chosen in the contract, the subject matter of the contract, the words used in the indemnification provision, the circumstances of the loss to be indemnified, and the different parties’ roles in producing the loss.

Read more in the 4-part Making Contracts Work for You, where we discuss various ways that you can strengthen your commercial contracts, so that in the case of a dispute, your contract works on your behalf. Part 1- Boilerplate, Part 2 – Warranties, Part 4 -Insurance Provisions

Making Contracts Work for You – Part 2- Contracts: Warranties

  • July 11, 2018

Warranties

A warranty is an agreement that the item sold, or some other subject matter related to your contract, conforms to a certain description.  The effect of a warranty is a contractual allocation of financial risk if the item sold (or other subject matter of your agreement) does not conform to the specified warranty.  A warranty is violated when the thing sold doesn’t satisfy the warranted condition. When this happens, the party who made the warranty is liable to the other party for the cost to repair or correct the issue — without regard to fault.  Thus, warranties produce liability without fault, sometimes called “strict liability.”  When a warranty is breached, it may also provide a basis for rescission and restitution — this means unwinding the contract.

Including warranties in contracts is an effective way to make sure your assumptions about what you are buying are included in the paperwork.  Requesting warranties during negotiation and drafting of documents is a good way to find out whether each party has the same understanding of what is being bought and sold. Signing an agreement that contains warranties that you did not agree to make can produce bad results; likewise, failing to include warranties in an agreement to reflect what has been promised to you is also a bad idea.

Often, a seller will attempt to disclaim liability for any breach of warranties by requesting an “AS-IS” provision. The words “AS IS” and similar terms generally trigger a legally enforceable disclaimer of all express and implied warranties, except for warranties set forth elsewhere in the agreement.

Parties relying on warranties will often want a “survival clause” in the agreement to be sure that any important warranties continue in effect after close of escrow, for example.

Read more in the 4-part Making Contracts Work for You, where we discuss various ways that you can strengthen your commercial contracts, so that in the case of a dispute, your contract works on your behalf: Part 1-Boilerplate, Part 3-Idemnity Provisions, Part 4 Insurance Provisions

Making Contracts Work For You – Part 1: 5 Boilerplate Items You Don’t Read

  • July 11, 2018

In this four-part series, Making Contracts Work for You, I will discuss various ways that you can strengthen your commercial contracts, so that in the case of a dispute, your contract works on your behalf.

Many people and businesses use self-written business forms as contracts and rely on handshakes to seal a deal. When a dispute arises from said deal, many of these people or business later turn to attorneys for a review of said contract.  Having an attorney review the contract will often reveal shortcomings, and then the second-guessing of the agreement then begins.

A few simple, but well-defined boilerplate terms can make your standardized commercial agreement an advantage for you in the case of a dispute, or at least keep the playing field level.  In many cases, a court cannot rescue you unless you give it the ammunition to do so. It makes great sense to improve your leverage and chances of collection, and perhaps even ward off disputes, by improving your standard contract forms with the simple tools mentioned below.

Here are some of the provisions that can make or break your success in a lawsuit that arises from your contract:

  1. Attorney’s Fees Clause — language that says the winner also gets his attorney’s fees recovered.

Why?  Under the “American Rule” you generally cannot recover attorney’s fees in most states, unless you have a right to attorney’s fees in your contract or under a special statutory remedy.  You want an attorney’s fee clause that is properly drafted.

  1. Clear Payment Deadlines and Interest Provisions — terms that state when payment or performance is due and the consequences for delay.

Why?  Disputes can take a long time to resolve.  The accrual of interest can become a powerful bargaining chip, and a significant item of recovery.  Interest compensates you for the loss of use of your money, and, to some degree, the loss of your own time devoted to the case.  Allowable interest rates vary according to the applicable state law.  If you want to charge “compound interest” — in other words, interest on interest — this must be explicitly stated in the agreement.  Otherwise, only simple interest will accrue on the principal sum due. Typically, we see contracts with no interest rate stated; the interest rate only appears in invoices.  The interest rate(s) should be agreed upon, up-front, in the contract.

  1. Choice of Law, Consent to Jurisdiction, and Venue — where a lawsuit must be filed and what law will apply.

Why?  Cases can be won or lost based purely on the financial burden caused by the location of the lawsuit or arbitration hearing.  You want to be in your own home “court,” spending nights at home with your family, trying the case with your favorite lawyer.

  1. Correct Naming of the Parties and Authorized Signatures — are you actually signing a contract with the party you think you are dealing with?

Why?Some level of due diligence is always appropriate.  If you are doing business with a corporation or other entity, you want your contract signed by a properly authorized representative with the corporate name properly stated.  You would be surprised how often this is overlooked.  Are you dealing with the true property owner, or his uncle who just got out of jail?  There is a wealth of publicly available data available on the Internet to verify the correct names of corporations and the true owners of property, businesses, etc., so you can ensure you have the correct, authorized signatures.

  1. Personal Guaranties – an additional source of payment if the contracting party defaults; usually a person with money, property or both.

Why?  It doesn’t take much for an unscrupulous person to form a corporation or an LLC.  If you do not have a solid track record of doing business with a business entity or trust, it may be appropriate to ask for a personal guaranty. Guaranties must be in writing to be enforceable; they can vary from a single sentence to multi-page guaranty agreements.

We are always happy to review our clients’ standard contracts and provide advice that will make your agreements stronger.

Read Making Contracts Work for You –  Part 2-Warranties , Part 3-Idemnity Provisions, Part 4- Insurance Provisions