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J. Robert Keena
J. Robert Keena

The POWER 30: J. Robert Keena

Hellmuth & Johnson

J. Robert Keena is chair of the of litigation practice at Hellmuth & Johnson and an active member of the real estate, construction, probate, and business law practices on behalf of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Illinois clients. There are 30 litigators in the department, and the biggest clients are construction companies, he said.

Keena started his practice representing insurers. Attorneys were not necessarily deep into insurance law at that time but by the time he went to Hellmuth & Johnson, about 20 years ago, it was a more visible field. Now there are still quite often attorneys who dabble in it, and “then you have to try to educate someone who doesn’t trust you,” he said.

One trend Keena noted is that more and more insurers for contractors are denying coverage. An issue arises over the exclusion of coverage for the insured’s work product when a subcontractor is involved. It was customary that the subcontractor would have an exception to that exclusion, allowing the contractor coverage when damage is caused by the sub. “More and more insurers are quietly removing that exception from their insurance policies and challenging coverage,” Keena said. Unlike some insurance requirements, there is no statutory standard that requires the exception. The Department of Labor could require an exception, Keena noted.

Keena also represents owners of farmland, particularly where there are heirs or trust beneficiaries. The tracts of farmland can be worth millions and issues arise when some heirs want to keep the farm and others want cash. Hellmuth has an office in Tyler, in southwestern Minnesota, where there are a large number of farmers. Keena regularly encounters beneficiary disputes that are quite sad, because one person wants to keep the farm going, sometimes in difficult market conditions. “The romance of the farm is hard to weigh,” Keena said.