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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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