The Evolution of Construction Defect Trends at West Coast Casualty Seminar

2018 West Coast Casualty Construction Defect Seminar Hall

Since 1993, West Coast Casualty's Construction Defect Seminar has provided a venue for discussion and education unlike any other in the industry.

May 24, 2018
Don MacGregor – Bert L. Howe & Associates, Inc.

Twenty-five years ago. 1993. On January 23rd, Bill Clinton was sworn in as the 42nd President of the United States. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $1.16, a movie ticket cost $4.00, and the average cost of a new home was $113,200.00.

1993 also marked the first of what would be a quarter century of annual seminars hosted by West Coast Casualty Service, and provided to the combined professionals within the Construction Defect Community. As the seminar has grown both in attendance and prominence within this community under the watchful stewardship of David and Coral Stern, much has changed both with regard to the content of the seminar and the climate within which it was presented. A quick look at the topics addressed over the past 25 years of the Construction Defect Seminar provides one with a veritable history of construction defect litigation and insurance coverage trends across the United States and beyond.

While the first seminar was hosted in 1993, my first attendance didn’t occur until 1999, and the first time I was honored to be a panelist would have to wait until 2007. In the subsequent years, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on panels an additional three times, and each one I gained rare and valuable insights into the Construction Defect Community, its willingness to challenge itself, and the amazing professionals we all have the distinct pleasure of working with every day (and whom we sometimes take too much for granted).

In the mid to late 90’s, topics at the seminar included such subjects as the Montrose Chemical Corp v. Superior Court decision (Montrose) regarding a carrier’s duty to defend and the subsequent Stonewall Insurance case that examined the duty to indemnify in the context of construction defect claims. The California Calderon Act of 1997, laying out the roadmap for HOA’s filing construction defect lawsuits was also a topic of discussion and debate within the West Coast “arena.”

The new millennium saw the landmark Aas v. William Lyon decision, which disallowed negligence claims for construction defects in the absence of actual resultant damage. This was followed by Presley Homes v. American States Insurance wherein the court ruled that a duty to defend applies where there is mere potential for coverage and the duty to defend applies to the entire action. Each of these bellwether decisions was addressed contemporaneously by panels at the West Coast seminar, contemporaneously bringing additional dialog to the CD community, from within the community.

2002 brought what has become the defining legislation in California regarding construction defect litigation and a builder’s right to repair. Senate Bill 800 (SB800), and its subsequent codification as Title 7, Part 2 of Division 2 of the California Civil Code, Sections 895 through 945.5 would become the defining framework for similar legislation across the United States. During the course of its drafting, movement through the legislature, and final adoption in January of 1993, many of the questions raised and debated in committees in Sacramento, had already been and were continuing to be addressed by panelists at the West Coast Seminar. How does SB800 work with Calderon? How does it affect the prior Aas decision? What now constitutes a defect, and what are timeframes established within the complex pre-litigation process? Open the pages of the 2002 – 2004 Seminar invitations and you’ll see panels comprised of the finest members of the insurance law and coverage communities addressing those very questions (and more)!

As the first decade of the new century drew to a close, a brief review of the WCC invitations from that period suggests a trend towards programmatic analyses of key themes selected for the seminar. In 2008, my second opportunity as a guest speaker, topics included a review of the state of construction defect litigation in a post-SB 800 environment. Panelists offered retrospective insight into the state of right to repair statutes in multiple states, while others offered a glimpse at where the industry might be headed, as similar legislation was enacted across the country. As always, pertinent court decisions bearing on construction defect, both in California, and elsewhere were given unique perspective and additional clarity by multiple panels of gifted speakers. In 2009, claims and coverage were examined from multiple unique perspectives, including that of plaintiff, the policyholder, and the insurer. Wrap policies and the gaps in due to self-insured retention obligations were examined.

As we rapidly approach the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, West Coast Casualty’s Construction Defect Seminar continues to lead the Construction Defect Community as the premier source for information and peer dialog on all matters relating to construction law, coverage, and emerging trends. In 2017, the Seminar tackled such broad subjects as the role of women in the construction industry, claims management, and risk management, challenges raised by wrap versus non-wrap litigation, and the emergent trend of apartment to condo conversions (and the attendant coverage challenges).

On May 16th at the Disneyland Resort, in Anaheim California, America’s largest Construction Defect event kicked off its 25th Anniversary celebration. As has been every year since 1993, the Seminar provided insurance, legal, and industry professionals an exciting and informative array of salient and timely panel topics, as well as a stellar faculty of gifted panelists. This year’s West Coast Casualty’s Construction Defect Seminar, like the past 25 years, was not only informative and educational, but also a promise for another 25 years of peerless service to the Construction Defect Community.



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