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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. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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