Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Scott Fetzer Co. v. American Home Assurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in this dispute arising out of environmental-cleanup and remediation work at two Superfund sites in Bronson, Michigan, holding that Restatement (Second) 193 does not govern the choice-of-law analysis for bad faith claims.Scott Fetzer Company filed this action asserting a breach of contract claim against certain insurance companies, including Travelers Casualty and Surety Company, alleging breaches of certain insurance contracts. Fetzer also asserted a tort claim against each company, arguing that they had acted in bad faith when handling his claims. As to Travelers, an administrative judge concluded that Ohio law applied to a discovery dispute concerning Scott Fetzer's bad faith claim. The court of appeals affirmed, determining that Ohio law governed the bad-faith discovery dispute because the cause of action was a tort. In affirming, the court applied the choice-of-law rules set forth in section 145 of the Restatement. Travelers appealed, arguing that section 193 governs the choice-of-law analysis for bad faith claims because they arise out of insurance contracts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly ruled that the choice-of-law analysis applicable to a bad-faith claim as provided by section 145. View "Scott Fetzer Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law
Gold Coast v. Crum & Forster Spclt
Gold Coast Commodities, Inc. makes animal feed using saponified poultry and plant fats at its Rankin County, Mississippi facility. Because its production process involves, among other things, old restaurant grease and sulfuric acid, Gold Coast is left with about 6,000 gallons of oily, “highly acidic,” and “extremely hot” wastewater each week. The City of Brandon, Mississippi, told a state agency that it believed Gold Coast was “discharging” that “oily, low-pH wastewater” into the public sewers. As a result, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality launched an investigation. Two months before the Department’s investigation, Gold Coast purchased a pollution liability policy from Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company. After the City filed suit, Gold Coast—seeking coverage under the provisions of its Policy—notified the insurer of its potential liability. But Crum & Forster refused to defend Gold Coast. The insurer insisted that because the Policy only covers accidents. The district court agreed with Crum & Forster—that the City wasn’t alleging an accident. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that here, the Policy is governed by Mississippi law. In Mississippi, whether an insurer has a duty to defend against a third-party lawsuit “depends upon the policy's language.” The district court found that the “overarching” theme of the City’s complaint, regardless of the accompanying “legal labels,” is that Gold Coast deliberately dumped wastewater into the public sewers. The court agreed with the district court and held that Gold Coast isn’t entitled to a defense from Crum & Forster. View "Gold Coast v. Crum & Forster Spclt" on Justia Law
Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America v. Westfield Insurance Co.
Sandstone operated large-scale swine farms in Scott County. Its owner also owned Red Oak. In 2007-2008, Westfield insured Sandstone. After 2008, Indemnity insured Sandstone. Star provided insurance to Red Oak. Sandstone was named as an additional insured under Star’s policy in 2009. In 2010, neighbors brought private nuisance claims against Sandstone in Illinois state court (“Marsh action”). Sandstone notified the three insurance companies. Each agreed to defend Sandstone, subject to a reservation of rights. Indemnity, citing a coverage exclusion for claims involving ”pollutants,” sought a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend. Sandstone withdrew its tender of defense to Indemnity, which dismissed its suit without prejudice. Star and Westfield split the defense of the Marsh action. An Illinois appellate court held that odor claims involving a hog facility are not “traditional environmental pollution” and are not excluded under insurance policy pollution exclusions, which foreclosed Indemnity’s earlier argument. Sandstone notified Indemnity, which filed another federal declaratory judgment action. In the Marsh action, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Sandstone. Westfield and then sought reimbursement of their defense costs.Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Indemnity. Its insurance is "excess" and Star had a duty to defend, so Indemnity’s “other insurance” provision relieves it of any duty to defend Sandstone. Indemnity is not estopped from asserting that defense because it promptly responded to Sandstone’s tender of defense. View "Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America v. Westfield Insurance Co." on Justia Law
O’Brien’s Response Management, L.L.C. v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc.
BP retained the Responders (O’Brien’s and NRC) for nearly $2 billion to assist with the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Thousands of the Responders' workers filed personal injury lawsuits against BP, which were consolidated and organized into “pleading bundles.” The B3 bundle included “all claims for personal injury and/or medical monitoring for exposure or other injury occurring after the explosion and fire of April 20, 2010.” In 2012, BP entered the “Medical Settlement” on the B3 claims with a defined settlement class. The opt-out deadline closed in October 2012. The Medical Settlement created a new type of claim for latent injuries, BackEnd Litigation Option (BELO) claims. After the settlement, plaintiffs could bring opt-out B3 claims if they did not participate in the settlement, and BELO claims if they were class members who alleged latent injuries and followed the approved process. Responders were aware of the settlement before the district court approved it but neither Responder had control over the negotiations, nor did either approve the settlement.In 2017, BP sought indemnification for 2,000 BELO claims by employees of the Responders. The Fifth Circuit held that BP was an additional insured up to the minimum amount required by its contract with O’Brien’s; the insurance policies maintained by O’Brien’s cannot be combined to satisfy the minimum amount. O’Brien’s is not required to indemnify BP because BP materially breached its indemnification provision with respect to the BELO claims. View "O'Brien's Response Management, L.L.C. v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc." on Justia Law
Greene v. Westfield Insurance Co.
VIM opened its Elkhart wood recycling facility around 2000. By 2009 1,025 neighbors filed a class-action lawsuit, describing VIM’s site as littered with massive, unbounded outdoor waste piles and alleging that VIM processed old, dry wood outside, which violated environmental regulations; constituted an eyesore; attracted mosquitos, termites, and rodents; posed a fire hazard; and emitted dust and other pollution. Many neighbors alleged health problems. In the meantime, VIM acquired general commercial liability policies, running from 2004-2008, that obligated Westfield to pay up to $2 million of any judgments against VIM for “property damage” or “bodily injury.” Each policy required VIM “as soon as practicable” to notify Westfield of any occurrence or offense that “may result in” a claim. Upon the filing of a claim, the policies required that VIM to provide written notice. There were three separate lawsuits over the course of 10 years. VIM sometimes successfully fended off the claims but sometimes did nothing, resulting in a $50.56 million default judgment. In a garnishment action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Westfield. The neighbors cannot credibly claim that VIM was unaware of the injuries before 2004 or that they would not reasonably have expected them to continue through 2008, so the notice requirements applied. Westfield only found out about the case from its own lawyer in 2010, while it was on appeal. View "Greene v. Westfield Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Atlantic Casualty Insurance Co v. Garcia
After the Garcias bought their Lake Station Property in 2004, it was used as an automobile repair shop and a day spa. It previously was used as a dry cleaning facility and contained six underground storage tanks: four were used for petroleum-based Stoddard solvent, one was used for gasoline, and the last for heating oil. In 1999, the dry cleaning company reported a leak from the Stoddard tanks to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). In 2000, a site investigation was conducted and five groundwater monitoring wells were installed. IDEM requested additional information and testing in 2001 and 2004. The Garcias claim they had no knowledge of the preexisting environmental contamination before insuring with Atlantic. A 2014 letter from Environmental Inc. brought the contamination to the Garcias’ attention. The Garcias hired Environmental to investigate and learned that Perchloroethylene solvent and heating oil still affected the property. Atlantic obtained a declaration that its Commercial General Liability Coverage (CGL) policies did not apply. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reading a “Claims in Process” exclusion to preclude coverage for losses or claims for damages arising out of property damage—known or unknown—that occurred or was in the process of occurring before the policy’s inception. View "Atlantic Casualty Insurance Co v. Garcia" on Justia Law
California v. Continental Ins. Co.
The State of California sued to recover from various insurers the costs of cleaning up the Stringfellow hazardous waste site, pending since 1993. The only remaining insurers were the Continental Insurance Company and Continental Casualty Company (collectively Continental), and the only remaining issues related to prejudgment interest. In 2015, Continental paid the State its full policy limits of $12 million. The trial court ruled that the State was entitled to mandatory prejudgment interest on that amount at seven percent, dating back to 1998. In the alternative, it also ruled that the State was entitled to discretionary prejudgment interest, at seven percent, dating back to 2002. Continental appealed. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed Continental’s contentions that the award of mandatory prejudgment interest was erroneous because: (1) the award was premised on the trial court’s erroneous ruling as to when Continental’s policies attached; and (2) the State was not entitled to mandatory prejudgment interest because the amount of its damages was uncertain. Continental further contended the award of discretionary prejudgment interest was erroneous because the trial court used an inapplicable interest rate. Finding no error affecting the award of mandatory prejudgment interest, the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Court did not review the award of discretionary prejudgment interest. View "California v. Continental Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Ironshore Specialty Insurance Co. v. United States
The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court order dismissing claims brought by Ironshore Specialty Insurance Company, the entity that paid the clean-up costs after a large military vessel spilled over 11,000 gallons of fuel next to Boston Harbor, against American Overseas Marine Company, LLC (AMSEA) and the United States. Ironshore sought cleanup costs and damages under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990, a declaratory judgment finding AMSEA and the United States to be strictly liable under the OPA, and damages sounding in general admiralty and maritime law as a result of AMSEA’s and the United States’ alleged negligence. The district court dismissed all claims. The First Circuit (1) affirmed the dismissal of all of Ironshore’s claims against AMSEA; (2) affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ironshore’s OPA claims against the United States; but (3) reversed the district court’s dismissal of Ironshore’s general admiralty and maritime negligence claims brought against the United States under the Suits in Admiralty Act because these claims were not foreclosed by the OPA. View "Ironshore Specialty Insurance Co. v. United States" on Justia Law
Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London, et al. v. Chemtura Cororporation
At the heart of this appeal was a coverage dispute between a chemical company and a group of insurers over whether the insurers had to compensate the company for expenses and fines associated with environmental claims against the company in Ohio and Arkansas. The policies in question were part of a comprehensive insurance program that covered the chemical company‘s operations around the world. The chemical company and the insurers disputed what law applied to their contract law dispute regarding the application of the insurance policy. The Superior Court held that the insurance policy was not, in fact, to be interpreted by a consistent law, but instead that the underlying contract law of the states where the environmental claims arose would govern on a claim-by-claim basis. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the insurer that the Superior Court erred in its application of the relevant choice-of-law principles, and, instead, applied a consistent choice of law principle. New York was the principal place of business for the chemical company‘s predecessors at the beginning of the coverage, and there were a number of contacts with New York over time after the beginning of the coverage, the most significant relationship among the parties for these contracts was New York. Thus, New York law should have been applied to resolve this contract dispute. The Superior Court was therefore reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London, et al. v. Chemtura Cororporation" on Justia Law
Givaudan Fragrances Corp. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.
Plaintiff Givaudan Fragrances Corporation (Fragrances) faced liability as a result of environmental contamination from a manufacturing site that a related corporate entity operated in a facility in Clifton. The issue this case presented for review involved Fragrances' effort to obtain insurance coverage for environmental claims brought by governmental entities in response to discharges of hazardous substances that occurred during the pertinent policy periods running through January 1, 1986. Fragrances claimed that the defendant insurance companies (defendants) wrote liability policies for Givaudan Corporation during those relevant years. Fragrances argued that it was entitled, either as an affiliate of Givaudan Corporation or by operation of an assignment of rights, to have the insurers provide it with coverage for that environmental liability. Defendants claimed that they insured Givaudan Corporation as their named insured, not Fragrances, and that any assignment to Fragrances was invalid because defendants did not consent to the assignment, as was required for a valid assignment according to the language of the insurance policies. Therefore, collectively, defendants refused to honor Fragrances' right to bring insurance contract claims against them. Fragrances filed its complaint in February 2009 seeking a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to coverage under the policies. In February 2010, while the declaratory judgment action was pending, Fragrances notified defendants that Givaudan Roure Flavors Corporation (corporate successor-in-interest to Givaudan Corporation) planned to assign its post-loss rights under the insurance policies to Fragrances. Defendants refused to consent to the assignment. Nevertheless, Flavors executed the assignment to Fragrances. Both sides moved for summary judgment. Because Fragrances was not acquired by Givaudan Corporation during the policy period, the trial court determined that it could not be an affiliated corporation covered under the policies. The court also determined that the assignment in this case was an assignment of policies, which could not be assigned. The court denied Fragrances' motion and granted defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded, explaining that although the anti-assignment clauses in the occurrence policies at issue would prevent an insured from transferring a policy without the consent of the insurer, once a loss occurs, an insured s claim under a policy may be assigned without the insurer s consent.The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that, once an insured loss has occurred, an anti-assignment clause in an occurrence policy may not provide a basis for an insurer s declination of coverage based on the insured's assignment of the right to invoke policy coverage for that loss. The assignment at issue in this case was a post-loss claim assignment and therefore the rule voiding application of anti-assignment clauses to such assignments applied. View "Givaudan Fragrances Corp. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co." on Justia Law