Liability insurance policies sold to businesses, and individuals, are often “occurrence”-based policies that provide coverage for specific events, or “occurrences,” that take place during a covered period (regardless of when a lawsuit based on those events is filed). This seems easy enough on the surface, but “occurrence” policies have given rise to legions of legal opinions concerning arguments as to whether a coverage-triggering “occurrence” or “occurrences” took place, and if so, when the “occurrence(s)” took place. As most businesses purchase commercial policies of relatively short duration, one or two years, policyholders oftentimes argue that separate occurrences took place over multiple consecutive policy periods – in order to “trigger” coverage under multiple policies. Insurers typically respond, if the facts support such a response, that there was no “occurrence” at all, and therefore coverage is not triggered under any of the potentially applicable policies – or alternatively, that there was only one “occurrence,” triggering coverage under only one policy.
Time and again courts have been asked to identify whether one or more “occurrence(s)” have transpired, and then to place those occurrence(s), should they be found to exist, into one or more policy periods. These tend to be thorny issues in commercial insurance cases, particularly when construction companies or related entities are seeking insurance coverage. The kaleidoscope of caselaw interpreting “occurrence”-based liability policies in the construction context has been built brick by brick (my apologies), or opinion by opinion. Just last month, the Fifth Circuit laid additional foundation for certain of these claims, holding that protection for “ongoing operations” does not cover defects that cause damage after work is completed.
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