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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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