I received several emails regarding the expose by Caitlin McCabe and Erin Arvedlund in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Rotting Within.” The story outlines the epidemic of defective stucco and other “building envelope” issues in Southeastern Pennsylvania that is causing homes to literally rot from within. Having litigated several of these cases, they are frustrating for both the attorneys that handle them and the homeowners who must deal with the reality that their home is rotting away. The story points to the multiple (and all too common) causes for the epidemic: unskilled subcontractors, lack of oversight and care, and poor construction drawings. The is no quick solution to the crisis and litigation regarding these defects is sure to proliferate.
However, there is one potential solution that the story does not cover and which could help alleviate some of the challenges homeowners face in recovering damages for their claims. The Pennsylvania Legislature must act to change the insurance laws in Pennsylvania to make defective construction covered by a developer’s, contractor’s, and subcontractor’s commercial general liability policy (“CGL”). Most homeowners and many attorneys incorrectly assume that defective construction is covered by insurance. This assumption makes sense. If someone operates a car in a negligent manner and hits your car and causes damage, the negligent driver’s insurance company with cover your loss. In reality, Pennsylvania courts follows a minority of states that holds that generally speaking defective workmanship is not a “covered occurrence” under an insurance policy. (There are several exceptions to this rule and thorough discussion is beyond this blog post and would probably bore you.)