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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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