Consolidated Insurance Programs: Using ASA Tools to Address Costs and Hidden Risks

March 2019 Edition

by Richard B. Usher, Hill & Usher, LLC

The debate over the perceived benefits of consolidated insurance programs (CIPs)—popularly referred to as “wrap-ups”—has evolved over the past several decades into one of the most contentious issues within today’s construction industry. Originally designed to reduce overall insurance costs on large, single-site projects involving significant labor and considerable workers’ compensation premium costs, wrap-ups have changed with the industry to apply to almost any project with a high number of contractors and subcontractors. Wrap-ups have become widely regarded as perilous for subcontractors, particularly when used on smaller or multi-site projects.

In its simplest form, a wrap-up is a centralized insurance and loss control program intended to protect the project owner, prime contractor and subcontractors under a single set of insurance policies. While the wrap-up concept has been around for more than 60 years, variations in the original plan’s design make many contemporary programs seem like comparatively new insurance models. Indeed, the concept of a wrap-up program is a departure from the traditional insurance format in which each contractor and subcontractor purchases and negotiates its own insurance program to address liability and the risk of accidents and claims. Wrap-ups often are inappropriately marketed as providing the same or better insurance coverage, at the same or less financial risk and cost to the subcontractor.

Ideally, a wrap-up would provide fully-paid comprehensive general liability, workers’ compensation, excess liability and builder’s risk coverage for all enrolled parties for the entire construction process and completed operations hazard period. All contractors are generally held liable for defects in construction and any resulting damage to property or persons arising from defects. Many states have enacted statutes of repose that establish a time limit after which claims against contractors for defective construction resulting in property damage are barred. State laws vary allowing claims to be attached for up to four to 10 years after construction is completed.

Today, most subcontractors that have experienced owner-controlled insurance programs (OCIPs) or contractor-controlled insurance programs (CCIPs) have come to realize that all wrap-ups are indeed not the same, and that they often are not as comprehensive as the sponsor implies. In fact, many wrap-ups have inadequate coverage and frequently burdensome procedures that can significantly increase risk and administrative costs.

Evaluating the risk, predicting the total cost impact, and properly bidding an OCIP, CCIP or project-specific insurance program (PSIP) project requires an understanding of the wrap-up coverage’s extent and quality. To help subcontractors facing the rising tide of projects with wrap-ups, the ASA Subcontract Documents Suite includes two documents, the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Bid Conditions and the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions, which are geared toward helping specialty trade contractors obtain favorable terms and an understanding of coverage under wrap-up insurance programs.

What to Watch Out For

The most important issues for a subcontractor considering an OCIP or CCIP are:

  1. How the subcontractor will be protected by the program.
  2. What impact the program will have on its costs and administrative burden.

Many benefits of consolidated insurance programs are marketed to the construction industry, but these benefits often favor the owner or whoever is sponsoring the wrap-up program.

Broader coverage is one of the selling-points touted to subcontractors. For some subcontractors, a wrap-up may provide broader insurance coverage than they would ordinarily procure. As a rule, though, subcontractors should not assume wrap-ups provide such broader coverage. While broader coverage may be used as a reward or an incentive for uninsured or under-insured subcontractors to join a wrap-up, subcontractors need to find out what additional or broader coverages will be incorporated. Examples of additional coverage may include asbestos and mold abatement, exterior insulation finish systems (EIFS), higher liability limits, pollution liability, professional liability, subsidence or the removal of certain standard exclusions.

Another benefit that proponents of wrap-ups cite is cost savings. This can be tricky for subcontractors because wrap-ups, by nature, inherently save the owner/prime contractor/policy sponsor money through one centralized insurance program that includes large deductibles, economies of scale, and minimized or “efficient” project administration. Subcontractors, on the other hand, must be aware that just because a sponsor’s broker claims the policy will save them money doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.

The numerous ways in which a wrap-up can increase subcontractor costs include:

  • Increased administrative costs and paperwork preparation due to monthly payroll and loss reports to the wrap-up administrator.
  • Requirements for additional payroll reporting, early-return-to-work and other safety programs at the administrator’s sole discretion.
  • The failure of the bid documents to detail administrative costs.
  • Worksheets that calculate too large a deduction from the subcontractor’s bid for the subcontractor’s actual net “cost of insurance” given the insurance package being provided on the project.
  • Extra compensation the subcontractor must provide to its normal broker/agent for working with the wrap-up administrator.
  • Lack of reimbursement to the subcontractor for the cost impact on its non-CIP insurance program.
  • The impact of large deductibles and uncovered losses.
  • Lack of pro rata sharing in retrospective premium adjustments on the wrap-up.

Reduction of the subcontractor’s mark-up on its original insurance costs is another sponsor-friendly benefit that can be marketed as a cost savings under a wrap-up. However, many subcontractors find that the administrative burdens experienced under wrap-ups can become extremely costly. Not having the ability to mark-up insurance costs to compensate for the burden should, therefore, not be perceived as a benefit for the subcontractor.

One of the easiest ways a subcontractor can avoid some of these problems is to condition its bid using the ASA Subcontractor Bid Proposal. By conditioning its bids on this document, a subcontractor can increase the leverage it needs to secure less onerous terms and conditions. A bid proposal can help level the playing field in contract negotiations, making explicit the level of risk upon which a subcontractor’s prices are conditioned.

In addition, the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions can be attached to a client’s proposed subcontract to modify it.

ASA members can adapt and incorporate specific provisions or language from each of these model documents within their own documents. Both are part of the ASA Subcontract Documents Suite.

To find out exactly how financial burdens are added in a wrap-up, a subcontractor must closely read the wrap-up plan’s manual. The wrap-up manual is where subcontractors will discover blatant financial pitfalls. Unfortunately, some wrap-up manuals focus on marketing the plan and fail to adequately disclose important details. For example, riggers liability may not be a covered exposure and any mention of the missing coverage may be completely omitted from the plan’s manual. The policies themselves, including all endorsements and all of the incorporating contract provisions must be considered as a whole to understand the coverage protections afforded by the wrap-up program. Missing coverage elements or program and contract pitfalls may be identified only after a careful review by experienced risk and insurance specialists.

Another sometimes benefit, often hidden within the wrap-up manual, is the implementation of comprehensive safety programs. Proponents of OCIPs and CCIPs suggest that such safety programs are a benefit because they regulate all participating parties under one set of rules, and because they help reduce insurance costs through larger deductibles. However, the manual may not disclose that wrap-up safety officers can mandate means and methods, including directives that deviate from the subcontractors’ best interests in safety and productivity. The program’s administrator also may not explain that some safety rules could have nothing to do with a subcontractor’s specific trade and will end up creating extra costs it did not factor into its initial bid.

Other factors that wrap-up sponsors market as benefits include low loss ratios and reduced cross-litigation. Loss ratios, which are the dollar amounts paid out for claims as a percentage of premiums paid, generally tend to occur on large wrap-up programs on which claims are below 35 percent to 40 percent. Realistically, they only benefit the owner or sponsor, and not subcontractors, because return premiums often are not shared with all participants. Big return premiums indicated from loss-sensitive programs can cause a significant incentive for the sponsor to exercise early termination to capture the credits and close out the program from further losses. Such termination can, in turn, create a significant problem for specialty trade contractors that planned on having the wrap-up insurance available through the completion of the project, as well as for its coverage for completed operations hazard risk.

Cross-litigation is not good for anyone, particularly owners and prime contractors that are trying to manage a project. However, having to employ the plan sponsor’s lawyer could make or break a subcontractor’s decision to join a wrap-up insurance program.

How to Prepare for Success within the Wrap-Up Arena

It goes without saying that before someone enters into any agreement with another party, he or she needs to understand that contract and ask questions about topics he or she does not understand. When the impact from a contract term is not fully understood, it pays to seek independent advice from experienced specialists before accepting the opinion of the other party to the agreement. OCIPs and CCIPs are no different. Wrap-up administrators should encourage full transparency of their program details before subcontractors bid. If a subcontractor can’t have an open dialogue with the plan’s administrator, including participation of its insurance, risk and legal advisors, during the pre-bid period, it might not want to waste its time, money and energy participating in the project. For help with this dialogue, see related article on “Risk Transfer: 30 Questions for Consolidated Insurance Programs.” This resource provides subcontractors with a list of questions that need to be answered to help them evaluate their risks and properly price their work.

Once a subcontractor decides to bid a job with a wrap-up, it is essential that whoever is handling that bidding process request all available information about the sponsor’s plan. Some of the most important documents include the wrap-up manual (or overview of coverage), all related policy forms, the named-insured endorsement, and any language regarding deductibles/self-insured retentions (SIRs). In addition, the contract provisions for incorporating and regulating the wrap-up terms should be identified and carefully reviewed. Often, one will find information about deductibles and termination in the incorporating language.

A subcontractor also should consider involving its insurance agent or broker as early in the process as possible, in order to assist in the analysis of any wrap-up that it hasn’t seen before—regardless of whether the subcontractor is familiar with the respective builder. In order to receive the proper help and advice, subcontractors should arrange to pay their agents/brokers, especially since the wrap-up will not provide any compensation. Such costs can be factored in when completing a wrap-up’s enrollment form. Simply add a line on the form adjusting the deduction to reflect your specified professional representation. A reasonable fee would generally be 15 percent of the subcontractor’s premium credit.

In summary, it is essential that a subcontractor exercise due diligence when it comes to the details of any wrap-up program. Ultimately, the subcontractor is responsible for evaluating and pricing risk and for putting together an informed bid proposal after identifying limits or conflicts within the plan.

Walk This Way or Just Walk Away?

Evaluating risk is an essential part of the pre-bid process for any subcontractor. As with other bid factors, wrap-up requirements sometimes can be too risky for a subcontractor to take the work. Before any subcontractor can conclude whether it should enroll in a program or walk away, it should first be able to answer the following important questions:

Does the CIP have sufficient limits to protect all insureds?

Wrap-ups often are intended to provide protection for the owner, contractor and all subcontractors (some wrap-ups might also apply on a rolling basis to many projects, which might be located at various sites). How does a subcontractor determine whether there will be enough insurance to take care of its potential liability? Many risk managers will expect limits of 70 percent or more of the total project costs to be available during construction and for many years after completion. A subcontractor may need assistance from its broker or agent to evaluate such program limits.

Does the plan include a termination for convenience clause?

Subcontractors need to know if there is a termination for convenience clause within the plan. If so, does the subcontractor have the ability to replace its coverage in the event that a termination occurs? If the plan sponsor terminates for convenience, does the subcontractor have the right to terminate the subcontract if its own coverage is not available? In order to prevent any gap that may arise resulting from termination, a subcontractor may want to incorporate the language in paragraph 4 of the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Bid Conditions or the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions.

Is the subcontractor’s commercial general liability coverage eliminated if it participates or enrolls in a wrap-up?

Many providers of commercial general liability (CGL) coverage suspend or eliminate a client’s right to coverage when it enrolls in an OCIP/CCIP. The standard wrap-up endorsement stipulates that coverage does not extend to bodily injury or property damage arising out of any project subject to a wrap-up, thus excluding all coverage for ongoing and completed operations and excess coverage. This exclusion applies whether or not the wrap-up: provides coverage identical to that provided by the subcontractor’s existing coverage, has adequate limits to cover all claims or remains in effect. The effect of the wrap-up endorsement could leave the subcontractor exposed and without any coverage if the wrap-up fails to provide coverage or is terminated. Therefore, a subcontractor that chooses to participate in a wrap-up needs to know if its own policy will provide ongoing and completed operations coverage in the event the wrap-up fails to provide adequate coverage, exhausts its limits or terminates. If not, the subcontractor should attempt to obtain a coverage endorsement providing that its policies will provide excess, difference in conditions, and full coverage in the event of termination of a wrap-up project. A subcontractor may want to obtain terms such as those included in paragraphs 3 and 4 of the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Bid Conditions and the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions.

What are the effective dates of coverage and claims reporting available from the wrap-up?

A subcontractor needs to know whether the completed operations coverage provided by a wrap-up coincides with or extends through the duration of the statute of repose in the state where the project is located. A statute of repose is a law that bars claims against contractors for defective construction after a specified period of time has elapsed after post-final completion of a project. Subcontractors should know what the applicable statute of repose is in the state where the project is located. If the wrap-up manual does not provide adequate information about the coverage term, subcontractors should address this issue with the plan’s administrator during the pre-bid period. Subcontractors should also consider incorporating provisions similar to those outlined in paragraph 3 of the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Bid Conditions and the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions that allow a subcontractor to procure additional insurance.

Is the subcontractor properly protected by a waiver of subrogation?

A subcontractor should pay close attention to waivers of subrogation in its subcontracts. This can be particularly significant in relation to the builder’s risk insurance when damage occurs during a project. When builder’s risk insurance is provided by the owner (with or without a wrap-up), it should be the sole source of recovery for damage to the work sustained until the project is completed. Waivers of subrogation need to be properly coordinated so that subcontractors, which intend to derive benefits from the builder’s risk policy when work is damaged, are not later subject to lawsuits for damage they cause. However, subcontractors need to know whether injuries to their employees caused or contributed to by other wrap-up insureds will be subrogated to the wrap-up’s CGL policy to protect their experience. Will damage to a subcontractor’s work caused by other wrap-up insureds and not paid by builder’s risk be covered as liability claims under the wrap-up? Will a subcontractor be properly treated as a third-party claimant with regard to damage to its work? To address potential conflicts regarding this issue, a subcontractor should consider insisting that the owner/plan sponsor waive rights of recovery by subrogation by incorporating paragraph 3 of the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions into its subcontract. Another option is to insure one’s property using language such as that contained in paragraph 3 of the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions, which addresses the scope of the builder’s risk coverage included within the wrap-up. These issues present another compelling argument for the subcontractor to have professional help before deciding whether or not to enroll in the wrap-up.

Will the wrap-up confer additional insured status for subcontractor’s rental equipment?

When it comes to rental equipment, subcontractors generally must arrange coverage for the rental provider through the wrap-up. They also must find out whether the wrap-up administrator is prepared to provide specific evidence of insurance that will satisfy the rental company. If additional insured status is not granted to the rental equipment provider by the wrap-up, there could be a problem because of the likely endorsement mentioned above. Another risk a subcontractor may inadvertently be exposed to will arise from the use of its on-site equipment and scaffolding by another sub that may not be properly enrolled in the wrap-up and not insured by its own insurance program.

Are the plan’s self-insured retentions (SIRs) fully funded or collateralized by the sponsor? For how much? For how long?

A self-insured retention (SIR) is an amount of money that an insured must expend in its own defense prior to a carrier assuming financial responsibility and/or administrative control over the claim. Subcontractors should understand the terms and amounts of SIRs since coverage may not be available to them until the SIR is fully funded. Many SIRs are very large—$250,000, $1 million, $3 million or higher—and well beyond the anticipated level that subcontractors are prepared to fund. SIRs often are not disclosed in wrap-up manuals and can only be found by reviewing the wrap-up policies. When large SIRs are applicable to wrap-ups, a subcontractor will be subject to the financial capacity of the plan sponsor to fund the SIR. When there are multiple claims there may be multiple SIRs. Some plan sponsors are single-project LLC developers that may not retain the financial capability to fund the SIR after project completion. This can put the subcontractor at considerable risk. Solving this problem requires the subcontractor to arrange for its own coverage for the difference in conditions and excess over the wrap-up, as previously discussed. Another option is for subcontractors to protect themselves against these unplanned liabilities through the incorporation of paragraph 5 of the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Bid Conditions and the ASA Wrap-Up Insurance Subcontract Conditions.

Conclusion

The challenges a subcontractor faces in determining its risk and burden relating to wrap-ups cannot entirely be identified or described in this white paper because they are so numerous and because there are so many differences from one wrap-up to another. The prudent subcontractor will exercise care and obtain assistance in evaluating the risk of enrollment, as well as manage its own program where any wrap-up leaves off.

At the end of the day, a subcontractor should have an understanding of the quality and scope of the wrap-up insurance program it is considering. Sweating the details and exercising due diligence during the pre-bid period will enable one to obtain the necessary information—the extent and quality of the coverage, the length and details of the program’s coverage, the experience and background of the policy’s administrator, etc.—and position itself to make a well-informed decision on whether to enroll in a controlled insurance program. Once a subcontractor makes the decision to bid a project with wrap-up insurance, conditioning its bid is a good way to avoid potential pitfalls or hidden costs associated with these types of insurance policies. Above all, a subcontractor must never forget that it can always walk away from a deal that is too risky.

This article is adapted from a 2016 white paper published by ASA, the Foundation of ASA, and Richard B. Usher, principal managing member, Hill & Usher, LLC, an insurance and surety firm in Phoenix, Ariz. Usher can be reached at (602) 956-4220 or rbu@hillusher.com. Copyright ©2016 by the American Subcontractors Association, Inc., the Foundation of the American Subcontractors Association, Inc. and Richard B. Usher. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the American Subcontractors Association, Inc. Disclaimer: This publication does not contain legal advice. The discussion is intended to provide information and guidance to individual subcontractors. Specific circumstances vary widely, so subcontractors may need to consult their insurance and legal advisors before acting on the premises described herein. Each subcontractor should decide for itself the contract terms and conditions which it believes will best protect its interests. Subcontractors should not agree among themselves as to the form of contract terms and conditions they will use. Such agreements may violate federal or state antitrust laws and could result in the imposition of civil and/or criminal penalties

 

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