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Justices disagree on pollution exclusion coverage

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A divided Indiana Supreme Court has held that the pollution exclusion contained in a general commercial liability policy is ambiguous and should be construed to provide coverage rather than in favor of the insurance company trying to deny coverage.

In a 3-2 decision in State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company v. Flexdar, Inc. and RTS Realty, Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson affirmed a ruling by Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele in favor of Flexdar. Justice Steven David concurred in result. But Justice Frank Sullivan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard disagreed, writing that they think the majority’s ruling will result in higher insurance premiums.

The case involves an Indianapolis rubber stamp and printing plate facility that operated from the mid-1990s to 2003, and how the manufacturing process used a chemical solvent that later appeared in the soil and groundwater on and near the site. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management informed the company it would be liable for cleanup costs, and Flexdar turned to its commercial general liability and umbrella insurance policies with State Automobile Mutual Insurance for defense and indemnification. State Auto agreed to defend Flexdar against the claims under a reservation of its right to deny coverage, but it later argued that the contamination wasn’t covered because of a pollution exclusion in the policy.

The trial court agreed with Flexdar that the policy’s exclusion language was ambiguous and should be construed against State Auto, and the intermediate appellate court affirmed.

Rucker wrote that Indiana applies basic contract principles to these issues and precedent has consistently held that an insurer can and should specify what falls within its pollution exclusion. In cases where the court’s found the language ambiguous, it has ruled in favor of coverage. In this case, the question is whether the policy language is sufficiently unambiguous to identify the chemical solvent as a pollutant, and this time they’ve determined it is not. Precedent dictates affirming the trial court’s decision, he wrote.

Sullivan and Shepard dissented in a two-page opinion, finding in favor of the insurer and noting they would have reversed the trial judge’s decision. Pointing to a 1996 decision from the state’s justices, Sullivan wrote that Indiana caselaw has never before stood for the proposition that all pollution exclusions are unenforceable but that is what this ruling now does.

 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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