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Judges rule on Evansville environmental coverage case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has determined a Marion County judge properly granted summary judgment in favor of a group of insurance companies because the city of Evansville was seeking coverage for projects aimed at preventing future sewer discharges, rather than remediating past discharges, which wouldn’t be covered by the policies.

The case involves Evansville’s century-old sewer system that partially drained into local waterways and led to pollution discharge permit disagreements in 2005 with the Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Departmental of Environmental Management. The city sued in 2007 seeking declaratory judgment against some of its insurers that they must provide coverage under the policies. The trial court eventually concluded the insurance policies at issue did not provide any coverage for the plaintiffs in the alleged liability, including fines and penalties as a result of the government’s actions against the city.

In analyzing the case, the appellate judges relied on the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Cinergy Corp. v. Associated Elec. & Gas Ins. Services, Inc., 865 N.E.2d 571 (Ind. 2007), known as “Cinergy I”, and the line of subsequent Cinergy cases from the Court of Appeals in the years following.

In City of Evansville and Evansville Water and Sewer Utility v. United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company, et al., No. 49A02-1104-PL-375, Judge Michael Barnes wrote that Cinergy I governs this action and precludes the city’s claim as a matter of law. The judges rejected and found “immaterial” Evansville’s claim that Cinergy I is distinguishable from this current case.

“The holding of Cinergy I is that prevention of future environmental harm, rather than remediation of past contamination, is not an ‘occurrence’ under insurance policies, and the policies at issue here contain similar provisions,” Barnes wrote. “The differences between the instant action and Cinergy I do not impact that ultimate holding.”
 

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