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High court divided on faulty workmanship coverage under CGL policy

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The high court split on whether an “occurrence” under a commercial general liability policy covers an insured contract for faulty workmanship of its subcontractor.

In Sheehan Construction Co., Inc., et al. v. Continental Casualty Co., et al., No. 49S02-1001-CV-32, Justices Robert Rucker, Brent Dickson, and Theodore Boehm reversed the trial court ruling in favor of the insurers on grounds that there was no damage to the property and thus there was no “occurrence” or “property damage.”

This class-action suit involves homeowners in a subdivision in which Sheehan Construction Co. was the general contractor. The homeowners had leaking windows, water damage, and other issues caused by the faulty workmanship of Sheehan’s subcontractors. During the period at issue, Sheehan was insured under a CGL policy by Continental Insurance Co.

The class settled with Continental. Continental filed declaratory judgment that it wasn’t obligated to indemnify Sheehan; Sheehan and the class filed a third-party complaint against Indiana Insurance and MJ Insurance, Sheehan’s insurance broker. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurers and MJ Insurance. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

The high court had to decide whether faulty workmanship fits within the insurance policy’s definition of “occurrence” under standard CGL policies. Jurisdictions have been split on this matter – some held it’s not an occurrence because it doesn’t constitute an “accident”; others have found improper construction be an “accident” and therefore an occurrence where the resulting damage occurs without the insured’s expectation or foresight, wrote Justice Rucker.

The majority aligned themselves with the jurisdictions that held improper or faulty workmanship does constitute an accident as long as the resulting damage is an event that occurs without expectation or foresight. They remanded for further proceedings because none of the parties’ Trial Rule 56 materials addressed the question of whether the faulty workmanship was the product of intentional or unintentional conduct, so the trial court reached no conclusion on that. If the subcontractor’s defective work was done intentionally instead of “without intention or design” then it is not an accident, wrote Justice Rucker.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard would align Indiana with those jurisdictions that have held faulty workmanship isn’t an occurrence. He wrote that these insurance policies are neither designed nor priced as coverage for whatever demands the insured may face in the nature of ordinary consumer claims about breach of warranty. He also joined Justice Frank Sullivan’s dissent, in which the justice views an “occurrence” under a CGL policy as accidental damage caused by an insured or insured’s subcontractor to property owned by third parties, but not the costs of repairing defective work. 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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