The scope and liability contained in a subcontractor agreement range widely, from very simple to the complex and punitive. Before signing a subcontractor agreement you should be aware of your responsibilities and liabilities imposed by that contract and whether your company has the means to accept the financial consequences and/or how your insurance will respond.
Definitely understand what risk you accept in the indemnification language. Typically the upstream party will impose an indemnification and hold harmless clause that at least requires you to indemnify them for liabilities where you are at least partially negligent. This may mean an indemnification for only your proportionate responsibility or upwards of their full sole negligence. Imagine your employee removes a safety barrier on a project in order to receive materials at the 3rd floor of a project, and fails to replace the safety barrier. Later an employee for another subcontractor, unaware the barrier has been removed, falls from the side of the building. That injured employee will likely see workers’ compensation and file a lawsuit against the building owner/contractor for negligence. If an indemnification agreement exists between the owners/contractor and you, you can expect the claim to be tendered to you for defense and indemnification. How will your insurance respond?
Your insurance coverage is equally important to the indemnification clause in the subcontractor agreement. If signing a broad (includes sole negligence of the owner) form indemnity agreement, then your insurance coverage should be the broadest available, with sufficient limits, as the indemnification agreement you have signed. This means your policies should include blanket waiver of subrogation for Auto, Work Comp, and General Liability, to prevent you insurance companies from tendering claims against the owner for their negligence that the owner will simply tender back to you under the indemnification agreement. Your policies should also include broad additional insured coverage to provide coverage for ongoing and completed operations (without a limitation of time after construction is completed) and provide coverage on a primary and non-contributory basis. Finally your policy should never include exclusions or restrictions that would place your company at financial risk due to an uncovered loss or an indemnification agreement. Examples of such exclusions/restrictions would be:
1) Modification of the definition of “insured contract”, which reduces your liability coverage to respond when you are negligent “in whole or in part”. If you have signed an indemnification agreement to respond for the Owners/Contractors “sole negligence”, you may have a gap in coverage.
2) Exclusion for residential construction. This would eliminate/reduce completed operations coverage for your work.