A Big Win for Riess LeMieux Construction Client at the Louisiana Supreme Court

Authors: Christopher K. LeMieux, Jonathan S. Forester and Alex S. Dunn Jr. 

Recently, on January 25, 2023, Riess LeMieux attorneys Christopher K. LeMieuxJonathan S. Forester and Alex S. Dunn Jr. obtained a big win in favor of a Riess LeMieux client against their insurer, when the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the insurers writ application from a judgment of the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and Orleans Parish Civil District Court. This decision by Louisiana’s highest court ended the insurers claim that it owed Riess LeMieux’s client no duty of defense under the client’s insurance policy.

The firm client, a general contractor, was hired to conduct certain construction and renovation work at a local school during an early phase of a project, which included some asbestos abatement work. The firm client obtained a general liability policy related to the work at the school, which contained an asbestos exclusion clause. For the later phase of the project, a different contractor was hired to perform subsequent work, including asbestos abatement. Allegations arose regarding asbestos disbursement and contamination primarily directed at the contractor and other entities working on the later phase of the project. Ultimately, the Plaintiffs, the school district and school board, filed a petition against numerous defendants, including the firm client general contractor, making numerous allegations, much (but not all) of which were related to asbestos.

The insurer alleged that it owed Riess LeMieux’s client no duty to defend, citing the asbestos exclusion in the insurance policy. Riess LeMieux argued that an insurer’s obligation to defend suits is broad and that if only one claim in a petition is not unambiguously excluded, the insurer has a duty to defend. Despite the duty to defend being triggered due to multiple allegations unrelated to asbestos, the client’s insurer disputed its obligation of defense for several years. Despite the insurer’s denial, Riess LeMieux obtained a favorable judgment at Civil District Court and then again at the Louisiana Fourth Circuit, confirming the insurer’s duty to defend. The insurer then filed a writ at the Louisiana Supreme Court, attempting to overturn the lower courts’ rulings. The Court ultimately denied the insurer’s writ, effectively upholding the lower courts’ rulings and the insurer’s duty to defend. Riess Lemieux is proud to have secured the correct result for its client.

This case brings to light an important point. Contractors should know that if they can show that any claim against them is not unambiguously excluded under their insurance policy, their insurer owes the duty to defend.