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American Building Supply Corp v. Petrocelli Group

November 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ciparick, J.:

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports.

In this appeal, we are asked to determine if an action for negligence and breach of contract lies against an insurance broker for failure to procure adequate insurance coverage where the insured received the policy without complaint. We hold, where issues of fact exist as to a request for specific coverage, that the insured can maintain such an action and defendant's motion for summary judgment should be denied.


Plaintiff American Building Supply Corp. (ABS) is a business which sells and furnishes building materials to general contractors. Plaintiff is located both in Manhattan and the Bronx. This action only concerns the premises located in the Bronx, where plaintiff is the sole tenant of a building it subleased from DRK, LLC (DRK), which had procured the property by entering into a lease agreement with the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA). Pursuant to the lease agreement between DRK and NYCIDA, DRK was, among other things, required to procure general liability insurance from a carrier licensed to do business in the State of New York in the minimum amount of $5,000,000 for bodily injury and property damage. The sublease agreement between ABS and DRK, both owned and managed by the same person, noted that the sublessee consented to all the terms of the lease agreement.

Prior to October 2004, Pollack Associates, not a party to this appeal, was plaintiff's insurance broker and procured a policy with the Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington), an excess line carrier not licensed in the State of New York. DRK was named an additional insured under the policy. The policy did not comply with the requirements set forth by the lease agreements and was subsequently cancelled due to nonpayment of premiums. In October 2004, plaintiff hired defendant Petrocelli Group, Inc. to replace Pollack as its insurance broker. Defendant arranged to reinstate the Burlington policy. Plaintiff claims that in its discussions with defendant regarding a new policy, it specifically requested general liability coverage for its employees in case of injury, as required by the lease agreements. Plaintiff also alleged that it informed defendant that only employees entered the premises, never customers, as no retail business was conducted at the Bronx location. Finally, plaintiff avers that defendant visited the premises and had assured NYCIDA that the insurance deficiencies would be corrected when the policy was up for renewal.

Defendant then renewed the Burlington policy for the period of June 14, 2005 through June 14, 2006. The policy was essentially the same as plaintiff had previously received through Pollack. The policy contained a cross liability exclusion clause that provided: "This insurance does not apply to any actual or alleged 'bodily injury', 'property damage', 'personal injury' or 'advertising injury' to . . . A present, former, future or prospective partner, officer, director, stockholder or employee of any insured." Plaintiff did not read the insurance policy upon receipt, nor did the broker.

In October 2005, one of plaintiff's employees was injured at the Bronx facility in the course of performing his duties. Burlington disclaimed coverage based upon the cross- liability exclusion. DRK sought a declaratory judgment against Burlington seeking a determination that Burlington was obligated to defend and indemnify plaintiff. Burlington moved for summary judgment. Supreme Court denied the motion and ordered Burlington to defend and indemnify plaintiff. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that Burlington had no duty to defend or indemnify based on the cross liability exclusion clause (see DRK, LLC v Burlington Ins. Co., 74 AD3d 693 [1st Dept 2010] lv denied

16 NY3d 702 [2011]).

Plaintiff next commenced this action against its broker

for negligence and breach of contract in connection with defendant's procurement of insufficient insurance. Following discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Supreme Court denied the motion, holding that "an issue of fact exists which precludes summary judgment." Specifically, the court found that plaintiff testified that it informed defendant it required coverage if any employee injured himself or herself and that a jury could rationally conclude that plaintiff made a specific request for such coverage to defendant. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that although issues of fact may exist as to plaintiff's request for specific coverage, plaintiff's failure to "read and under[stand] [the] policy . . . precludes recovery in this action (American Bldg. Supply Corp. v Petrocelli Group, Inc., 81 AD3d 531, 531-532 [1st Dept 2011]).

We granted leave to appeal (17 NY3d 711 [2011]) and now reverse.


"[I]nsurance agents have a common-law duty to obtain requested coverage for their clients within a reasonable time or inform the client of the inability to do so; however, they have no continuing duty to advise, guide or direct a client to obtain additional coverage" (Murphy v Kuhn, 90 NY2d 266, 270 [1997]). To set forth a case for negligence or breach of contract against an insurance broker, a plaintiff must establish that a specific request was made to the broker for the coverage that was not provided in the policy (see Hoffend & Sons, Inc. v Rose & Kiernan, Inc., 7 NY3d 152, 155 [2006]). "A general request for coverage will not satisfy the requirement of a specific request for a certain type of coverage" (id. at 158).

Here, plaintiff testified, at its deposition, that it specifically requested "general liability for the employees . . . if anybody was to trip and fall and get injured in any way." Plaintiff also testified that defendant was aware of ABS's operations, i.e., that there were no retail sales to the public at the premises and that the only persons at the premises were plaintiff's employees. Defendant, of course, maintains that the procured coverage satisfied plaintiff's request. Like the courts below, we conclude that issues of fact exist as to whether plaintiff specifically ...

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