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Court rules in favor of insurer in environmental cleanup dispute

May 23, 2013

A release executed between a chemical manufacturing business and its insurer that relieved the insurer from claims or demands related to remediation was unambiguous and covered all policies held by the company, not just the primary liability ones, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co. was the general liability insurer of Warsaw Chemical Company when Warsaw learned of environmental contamination. Warsaw sought reimbursement for the remediation pursuant to its primary and excess policies. The insurer denied coverage under primary and excess liability policies. In 1992, the two entered into the release in exchange for $25,000.

Fifteen years later, Warsaw sued, arguing that the release only covered primary liability polices and there should be coverage under the excess policies. The trial court ultimately entered judgment in favor of Warsaw for $417,953.

At issue in United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company v. Warsaw Chemical Company, Inc., 49A04-1203-CT-97, is the language in the 1992 release and the distinction between recitals – or “whereas” clauses – and operative language in contracts. The release stated that USF&G would be forever discharged “from any further claims … .” The Court of Appeals held under the binding precedent of Irwin’s Bank v. Fletcher, etc. Trust Co. Rec (1924) 195 Ind. 699, 145 N.E. 869, 146 N.E. 869, and Kerfoot v. Kessener (1949) 227 Ind. 58, 84 N.E.2d 190, the recitals referencing only the primary policies may not be used to interpret the unambiguous operative language releasing the insurer from any further claims.

The judges rejected Warsaw’s claim that those cases are no longer good law based on OEC-Diasonics Inc. v. Major, 674 N.E.2d 1312 (Ind. 1996).

“Recital language that arguably suggests that the release applied to only some of the insurance policies Warsaw had with USF&G does not trump this clear language. Because the Release covered the excess policies, the trial court erred in denying USF&G’s summary judgment motion on this point. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for entry of summary judgment in favor of USF&G,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

 

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