South Carolina “occurrence” and number of “occurrences”

In Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. Rhodes, No. 27316 (S.C. Sept. 25, 2013), claimant Rhodes contracted with insured Eaton for the design, fabrication, and installation of three outdoor advertising signs. After the signs were installed, one started to lean.  At Rhodes’ request, Eaton repaired the leaning sign. Shortly thereafter, one of the other signs fell across a roadway which prompted the state to order Rhodes to remove the two remaining signs. Eaton’s CGL insurer Auto-Owners paid for damages caused by the sign that fell but declined coverage for the remaining damages.  Rhodes sued Eaton alleging negligence  and Auto-Owners filed a declaratory judgment action.    In the declaratory judgment action, Auto-Owners conceded that the falling of the one sign constituted an “occurrence.”  The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the state-ordered removal of the two remaining signs also constituted an “occurrence” because their mandated removal would not have occurred “but for” the first sign falling.  Because all three signs were constructed at the same time, there was a single continuous “occurrence” with progressive damage. The court expressly did not address whether there was “property damage” or any exclusions applied.