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COA adopts 'site-specific' approach

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For the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals adopted a site-specific approach to rule on an insurance case with multiple policies in several states. The appellate court had been following a uniform-contract-interpretation approach when ruling on choice of law questions in contract actions.

Since 1978, the Court of Appeals has generally followed the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws (1971), when confronted with a choice of law issue. But in analyzing its approach of the uniform-contract-interpretation in National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA., et al. v. Standard Fusee Corp., No. 49A04-0811-CV-665, the judges decided the site-specific approach should be used.

National Union Fire and other insurers of Standard Fusee Corp. appealed partial summary judgment entered for SFC, declaring the insurers' duty to defend in environmental actions involving sites in California and Indiana. The trial court applied Indiana substantive law to interpret the insurance policies, instead of Maryland law, where SFC is headquartered and the insurance premiums were paid.

The appellate judges examined caselaw and the Restatement regarding choice of law issues to determine the site-specific approach should be followed in situations like the one in the instant case. The uniform-contract-interpretation approach says the law of a single forum governs the interpretation of coverage under a casualty insurance policy for multi-state claims arising from environmental damage in multiple jurisdictions. With that approach, the COA has held the state with the most sites is the principal location of the insured risk.

Under the site-specific approach, the courts would be inclined to treat a single policy insuring multiple sites as single policies insuring each individual risk, and if an issue arose at one site, the policy would be interpreted under the law of that state.

"To follow the uniform-contract-interpretation approach and apply the law of a single state to a dispute involving several states is to minimize the natural interests of the other states in the determination of the issues arising under the insurance contract," wrote Judge James Kirsch.

Following the uniform-contract-interpretation approach would be contrary to the general principles listed in Section 6 and the rationale behind Section 193 of the Restatement, he explained.

Since Indiana has the most significant relationship with the contamination, Indiana law should apply here; California law should apply to the California site, wrote Judge Kirsch. The COA remanded for the trial court to apply California law to any issues raised by the insurers that relate to that site.

The appellate court also affirmed the insurers had reasonable notice of the environmental proceedings in Indiana and California; the insurance policies' pollution exclusions are ambiguous and unenforceable under American States Ins. Co. v. Kiger, 662 N.E.2d 945 (Ind. 1996), and don't relieve their duty to defend; and that SFC's entry into Indiana's voluntary remediation program constitutes a suit for purposes of the insurance policies.

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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