Toxic Exposure Case Could Have Huge Ramifications Nationwide

Court To Decide When Coverage Kicks in for Toxic Exposure

Court To Decide When Coverage Kicks in for Toxic Exposure

( – When major medical issues arise, insurance can be an incredibly helpful tool to have as people navigate major decisions and bills. However, it is only beneficial if it actually kicks in. A recent court case is seeking answers to whether or not a decades-old insurance policy must activate for some West Virginia workers who believe they got cancer after exposure in their office years ago.

Plaintiffs Sue Sistersville Tank Works

In 2016, three different parties brought lawsuits against Sistersville Tank Works (STW) in Sistersville, West Virginia. The plaintiffs argued their former employer had defective chemical storage tanks on its property that exposed workers to carcinogens. These former employees all have cancer, each diagnosed after 2014, decades after their last exposure to the alleged tanks.

From 1985 to 2010, when the plaintiffs were employed by STW, Westfield Insurance Co. insured the business in question for liability claims for any “bodily injuries.” While Westfield is defending STW against the lawsuit, its legal team is also arguing in a separate lawsuit it is not liable for providing coverage as the illnesses only appeared after the insurance policy expired.

Understanding Different Types of Insurance Triggers

STW lawyers are arguing this situation calls for a “continuous trigger” option, meaning the illnesses in question began when someone was initially exposed to the toxin, such as the poorly stored chemical tanks at STW. Under the continuous trigger theory, Westfield would be on the hook for covering the business as the injuries began during the exposure.

However, there are other legal theories about when triggers and illnesses begin. West Virginia Courts have also used an “initial-exposure trigger” and an “injury-in-fact” trigger in various cases, making this a muddy area of law.

The initial ruling sided with STW, but it acknowledged the tricky situation. So, the 4th Circuit court asked the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to decide when insurance coverage kicks in “for claims stemming from chemical exposure or other analogous harm that contributed to development of a latent illness.”

This Case Could Set a Major Precedent

These days, more and more stories are showing up where past exposure to toxins, whether in the water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, at a chemical storage facility in West Virginia, or burn pits in Iraq, cause illnesses down the road. Insurance companies obviously do not want to be on the hook for coverage they provided years ago; similarly, businesses are not prepared to do so either.

So, as the West Virginia Supreme Court prepares to hear and decide this case, it may have huge ramifications across the country.

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