In its recent decision Town & Country Prop., L.L.C. v. Amerisure Ins. Co., 2011 Ala. LEXIS 183 (Ala. Oct. 21, 2011), the Supreme Court of Alabama had occasion to consider whether an underlying suit for defective workmanship triggered coverage under a general liability policy.

The insured, a general contractor, had been hired to construct an automobile sales and service facility.  Shortly after completion of the project, the project owner discovered several defects.  Frustrated by the insured’s subsequent inability to repair the defects, the owner commenced suit, alleging various causes of action based on theories of tort and breach of contract.  Amerisure provided a defense to its insured under a reservation of rights.  The matter ultimately resulted in a judgment against the insured for approximately $650,000.  Shortly after judgment was rendered, Amerisure denied a liability to indemnify its insured on the basis that the suit did not allege an occurrence, and that even if it did, the policy’s exclusion applicable to property damage to “your work” barred coverage.  Plaintiffs in the underlying matter, standing in the shoes of the insured, contended that the allegations of faulty workmanship constituted an occurrence and that the exclusion was inapplicable because the property damage alleged was caused by the insured’s subcontractors rather than by work actually performed by the insured. 

The Court looked to its two prior decisions on the issue of what constitutes an occurrence in the context of faulty workmanship claims.  In United States Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Warwick Dev. Co., 446 So. 2d 1021 (Ala. 1984), the Court had held that an underlying claim did not allege an occurrence where the damage alleged was limited solely to faulty workmanship.  By contrast, in Moss v. Champion Ins. Co., 442 So. 2d 26 (Ala. 1983), the Court found an occurrence where the insured’s failure to properly construct a roof allowed for water intrusion to the plaintiff’s home, causing damage to plaintiff’s attic and ceilings.  The Court harmonized these two decisions by explaining that “faulty workmanship itself is not an occurrence but that faulty workmanship may lead to an occurrence if it subjects personal property or other parts of the structure to "continuous or repeated exposure" to some other "general harmful condition" (e.g., the rain in Moss) and, as a result of that exposure, personal property or other parts of the structure are damaged.”

The Court therefore held that to the extent that the underlying suit was limited to allegations of faulty workmanship, there could be no occurrence.  It nevertheless remanded the matter for further findings to determine whether the plaintiffs experienced any subsequent property damage, such as resulting damage to computers or furnishings.  In passing, the Court noted that if plaintiff did experience such property damage, it would necessarily follow that such damage was caused by an occurrence, and that the policy’s “your work” exclusion would not apply because of the exception applicable to work performed by subcontractors.