When is exposure to toxic substances covered by insurance? Ask the Court of Appeals

  • Is the insurance company liable if the illness is discovered long after the policy has expired?
  • Answer to West Virginia Supreme Court-approved question is ‘very important’ for chemical industry

[Reuters]- A federal appeals court has given guidance to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on whether long-term insurance policies cover liability for exposures to toxic substances allegedly occurring during the policy period. which caused a disease that was diagnosed decades later.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said on Monday that no state superior court had addressed the issue, its answer being the current dispute between Westfield Insurance Co and former insured Sistersville Tank Works (STW). He said that it has a meaning that goes far beyond.

“West Virginia has a long history of having a sizable chemical industry, so this issue is likely to be a very important one for the state,” the three-judge panel said. Curium per order.

Lawyers for both parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.

The Fourth Circuit’s order came three weeks after hearing debate in the case, which began when STW was sued in three state courts in 2016.

State court plaintiffs were diagnosed with various forms of cancer between 2014 and 2016. They said STW supplied and maintained chemical storage tanks at his workplace from the 1960s through his early 2000s, exposing workers because the tanks were defective or improperly maintained. claimed to have done so. to carcinogenic toxins.

Westfield did not hold STW liable for “bodily injury” from 1985 to 2010, the Fourth Circuit said. The insurer agreed to defend STW from a cancer victim lawsuit, but reserved the right to challenge coverage in a separate lawsuit filed in Wheeling’s U.S. District Court in 2018. .

Among other things, Westfield argued that potential sickness coverage was only caused by sickness symptoms occurring after the insurance had expired.

STW advocated a “continuous trigger” theory instead. A theory originally developed for the case of asbestos injury, it assumes that the injury occurs throughout the exposure period.

United States District Court Judge John Preston Bailey control For STW, I predict that state superior courts will adopt the continuous trigger theory.

And maybe so, said the Fourth Circuit. All four theories are used in courts throughout the Fourth Circuit, and indeed the nation, the Commission said.

Therefore, “we certify the following questions of law to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals,” the Fourth Circuit said. “When did physical injury occur to trigger coverage for claims resulting from chemical exposure or other similar damage that contributed to the development of the underlying illness?”

The case is Westfield Insurance Company v. Sistersville Tank Works Inc. Robert N. Edwards. E. Jane Price, deceased as an individual and executor of the estate of Robert G. Price. Douglas L. Steele. Carroll Steele, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit No. 20-2052.

For Westfield Insurance: Ernest Hentschel II and Brent Kesner of Kesner & Kesner

For Sistersville Tank Works: Patrick Shannon Casey, Sandra Marie Chapman, Ryan Paul Orth of Casey & Chapman

For Edwards et al: David Belknap Lunsford of Hartley Law Group

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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