Is damage resulting from faulty workmanship covered under your CGL policy? In the past, insurers have had success in certain jurisdictions arguing that construction defect cases did not constitute a covered “occurrence” because the damage was purportedly not unintended or unexpected. In recent years, however, courts have shifted course; the majority of courts have found that property damage arising out of faulty workmanship constitutes an “occurrence” under standard-form CGL policies. Additionally, some states enacted legislation requiring CGL policies to define occurrence to include property damage or bodily injury resulting from faulty workmanship, or have made it easier for insureds to obtain coverage for damages as a result of work the insureds performed.
Say you want to make a reservation for a nice dinner. Do you call the restaurant and simply say you plan to come sometime in the next two weeks? Of course not. If you want your reservation to do any good, you give the restaurant a date, time, and number of people. So why should insurers be able to issue reservations of rights where they quote half the policy and say they may deny coverage at some time, based on some unspecified provision? The South Carolina Supreme Court was presented with that question and decided that insurers need to provide greater specificity or risk losing their reservations completely.
In 1173, builders broke ground in Pisa, Italy, on the Torre de Pisa (that is, the Tower of Pisa). At over 183 feet, it was to be a grand statement—remember, this was 1173, not 2016.
But the story is not all roses. The tower began immediately to tilt—by the time they started laying just the second floor of the tower, it was leaning. Thus, it earned the name we all now know (and love?), “Torre pendent di Pisa”—the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Wikipedia explains, “[t]he tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.” The tower now leans over 12 feet from the vertical axis.
Over the past four months, a trio of cases has introduced a policyholder-friendly breath of fresh air to Iowa insurance coverage law as Iowa state and federal courts have found that defective workmanship may constitute a covered occurrence under the plain language of CGL policies.
Since 1979, commercial general liability (CGL) insurers have relied on the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Weedo v. Stone-E-Brick, Inc. and its progeny to argue that a subcontractor’s defective work can never qualify as an “occurrence” under a standard form ISO CGL policy. This argument is contrary to both the language of standard CGL policies and the trend in recent case law, but courts in New Jersey and elsewhere have continued to cite Weedo for this proposition. With its new decision in Cypress Point Condominium Association, Inc. v. Adria Towers, LLC, the New Jersey Supreme Court has now finally relegated Weedo to its proper status as an historical footnote based on outdated policy language.
Cypress Point involved claims for rain water damage to a condo building. When the condo association began noticing the damage, it brought claims against the developer/general contractor and several subcontractors. The association alleged that the subcontractors’ defective work on the exterior of the building allowed water leaks that damaged steel supports, sheathing and sheetrock, and insulation. When the developer’s CGL insurers refused to cover the claims, the association sued the insurers, seeking a declaration that the association’s claims against the developer were covered.
The recent decision of Allied Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Metro North Condominium Associates highlights why only a minority of jurisdictions still hold to the fiction that construction defects cannot give rise to an “occurrence” covered under a CGL policy. It also shows why construction companies and other companies with similar risks need to understand how this rule is applied, and may want to avoid choosing Illinois law to control their CGL policies.