ILNews

COA differs on why no insurer duty to defend

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeals judges agreed that two insurance companies are entitled to summary judgment, but the judges disagreed as to why the insurers owed no duty to defend.

In P.R. Mallory & Co. Inc., et al. v. American Casualty Co. of Reading, PA., et al., No. 54A01-0903-CV-142, P.R. Mallory and other companies affiliated with Radio Materials Corp. sued American Casualty Co. and Continental Casualty Co. in 2000 for breach of contract regarding the insurers' duty to defend relating to environmental contaminations caused by Radio Materials. Radio Materials operated a manufacturing plant of television parts in Attica in which it had two open, unlined pits from 1950 to the 1980s that contained various contaminants and other hazardous wastes.

CCC issued a commercial casualty policy to Radio Materials in 1981; ACC issued three commercial casualty policies for the years 1982-1984.

Beginning in the 1960s, Radio Materials became aware of contaminants from its site leaking and entering neighboring properties. It attempted to remove most of the contaminated soil in the 1990s. In March 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency entered a consent order for Radio Materials in which the agency found a release of hazardous waste into the environment and Radio Materials had to undertake all the actions required by the order.

The trial court granted ACC and CCC's motion for summary judgment based on late notice.

Judges Elaine Brown and L. Mark Bailey agreed with the trial court's reasoning for entering summary judgment for the insurers. The plaintiffs argued that Radio Materials' duty to provide notice didn't arise until the company subjectively became aware of the property damage happening during the 1980 to 1984 time period. But the designated evidence showed that beginning the 1960s, Radio Materials was aware of contamination seeping out to nearby properties. In the 1980s the company sent notice to Kraft Foods Corp., which through a merger had interest in Radio Materials' assets, regarding potential environmental pollution problems.

The plaintiffs had knowledge of an occurrence before they notified the insurers and the plaintiffs' delay in notifying ACC and CCC of the occurrence constituted unreasonably late notice, wrote Judge Brown. P.R. Mallory and the other companies failed to rebut the presumption of prejudice as a matter of law.

In his separate opinion in which he concurred in result, Judge Edward Najam wrote the case turned on whether there was an "occurrence" during the policy period, not whether Radio Materials satisfied the notice requirement. Radio Materials showed no evidence of property damage to non-owned property during the policy period of 1980 to 1984, so no occurrence took place that could suggest coverage, he wrote.

"In a coverage case, it is incumbent on the insured to present facts that indicate coverage," he wrote. "As we have held, where the facts alleged by an insured (and summary judgment nonmovant) reveal no circumstances that would indicate coverage, the insurer can 'not be held to have been required to defend' the insured from third-party actions."

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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