A handful of coverage lawsuits have been decided over the application of pollution exclusions to deny coverage for PFAS claims, and rulings have been split on whether carriers owe coverage or a duty to defend their policyholders.

Related article: What Insurers Should Know About PFAS

Law firms writing about the decisions note distinctions between rulings on traditional environmental- and product-liability-type cases, as well as jurisdictional differences related to the “sudden and accidental” exception to pollution exclusions.

Cases include Grange Ins. Co. v. Cycle-Tex Inc. (Dec. 5, 2022); Tonoga Inc. v New Hampshire Ins. Co. (Jan. 6, 2022); Wolverine World Wide Inc. v. Am. Ins. Co. (Oct. 18, 2021); Colony Ins. Co. v. Buckeye Fire Equipment Co. (Oct. 20, 2020).

  • In Cycle-Tex, a traditional environmental case in which plaintiffs allege contamination of waterways, a Georgia district court saw “no doubt” that the PFAS chemicals were “pollutants” as defined in the policy, upholding the exclusion in favor of the insurer.
  • In Tonaga, a New York State Appellate Court, ruling in a similar traditional environmental matter, came to the same conclusion and also addressed the sudden and accidental exception. “[A]llegations that a solution was dumped over a period of many years suggests ‘the opposite of suddenness,’ and, as a matter of law, volitional, long-term discharge of a substance cannot be viewed as unintended or unexpected,” the court said.
  • In contrast, in Wolverine, a federal district court in Michigan held that insurers had a duty to defend “until it is determined that every claim in the lawsuit involving pollution is conclusively determined to be intentionally discharged” in view of the sudden and accidental exception.
  • In Buckeye, a North Carolina district court (affirmed at the appellate level) found that an insurer could not deny coverage to a fire equipment company because some of the personal injury and property damage allegedly suffered by underlying plaintiffs “are not the prototypical environmental harms that a pollution exclusion clause is generally intended to protect against.”

Read more about these cases in these articles authored by various law firms: