Sixth Circuit holds construction defect is not an occurrence
Source: http://www.lexology.com, December 20, 2013
By: Brian Bassett, Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP
In its recent decision in Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co. v. Kay & Kay Contracting LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23587 (6th Cir. Nov. 19, 2013), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, applying Kentucky law, had occasion to consider whether a subcontractor’s allegedly faulty preparation of a building pad, and the resulting settling and structural damages to the building constructed on the building pad, constitutes an “occurrence.”
Liberty Mutual issued a CGL insurance policy to Kay & Kay as the named insured and included MW Builders as an additional insured (“the contractors”). Wal-Mart contracted with MW Builders as a general contractor to build a new Wal-Mart store. MW Builders in turn subcontracted with Kay & Kay to perform site preparation work and construct the building pad for the new store. After Kay & Kay completed the building pad and constructed the building, Wal-Mart notified MW Builders that there were cracks in the building’s wall. Wal-Mart demanded that MW Builders remedy these issues and fix the resulting damage. MW Builders in turn demanded that Kay & Kay remedy these issues and indemnify MW Builders from Wal-Mart’s claim. MW Builders and Kay & Kay reached an agreement and executed a new and separate contract under which Kay & Kay agreed to perform the remedial work demanded by Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, Liberty Mutual filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment against the contractors alleging that their claims were not covered under the CGL policy, in relevant part, because there was no “occurrence” alleged.
The CGL policy at issue contained the standard coverage language found in a standard Insurance Services Office form. The policy provided: “This insurance applies to ‘bodily injury’ and ‘property damage’ only if…[t]he ‘bodily injury’ or property damage’ is caused by an ‘occurrence’ that takes place in the ‘coverage territory’… .” The policy defined “occurrence” to mean “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” The policy did not define the term “accident.”
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the limited issue of whether there was an “occurrence” alleged in the claim. After a hearing, the district court denied Liberty Mutual’s motion for summary judgment and granted the contractors’ motion. Liberty Mutual appealed.
Relying on Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Motorists Mut. Ins. Co., 306 S.W. 3d 69, 73 (Ky. 2010), the court noted that, standing alone, claims of faulty workmanship are not “occurrences” under CGL policies. The contractors argued that the damage was not Kay & Kay’s allegedly defective building pad (the work product itself), but was instead the collateral damage to the building (other property), which was the work of third-party contractors. The Court recognized that in order for there to have been an “occurrence”, there had to have been an “accident.” Following Cincinnati, the court concluded that the plain meaning of the term accident implicated the doctrine of fortuity, and it recognized that fortuity consists of intent and control.
After a careful examination of Cincinnati, the Court held that the facts of the case did not present an “accident” that would trigger coverage as an “occurrence” under the CGL policy issued by Liberty Mutual. The Court emphasized the importance the Cincinnati court put on “control” in analyzing the question of fortuity, and noted that the damages that occurred in this case were within the control of Kay & Kay; Kay & Kay was hired to prevent the settling and resultant structural damage that occurred. “In other words, the possibility of the type of damage in this case was exactly what Kay & Kay was hired to control.” The Court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case with instructions to grant judgment for Liberty Mutual.