In what is the first trial court ruling in California on the issue, to our knowledge, the San Francisco Superior Court on January 31, 2013 issued a ruling adopting the Wallace & Gale approach to the completed operations issue for asbestos claims. The decision was issued by San Francisco Superior Court Judge John E. Munter in Phase III of Plant Insulation Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., et al., a multi-phase declaratory relief action pending in San Francisco.
In an effort to avoid the impact of the completed operations aggregate limit, policyholder counsel sometimes attempt to characterize claims as (1) rip-out exposures, or (2) as relating to “abandoned or unused materials,” so as to come within a common insurance policy carve-out from the Completed Operations Hazard. Both arguments are a stretch.
All policies are not exposed to unlimited operations coverage from asbestos claims. First, not all asbestos claims present operations coverage issues. The “operations issue” arises from the fact that many CGL policies provide aggregate limits only for claims arising from certain types of hazards—typically Products and Completed Operations. Injuries arising from an insured’s ongoing operations are arguably not subject to an aggregate limit. Therefore, to the extent an asbestos claimant’s injury is the result of exposure during the insured’s operations, the claim arguably is not subject to an aggregate cap. But not all insureds that are subject to asbestos claims conducted operations. Continue reading Are All Liability Insurance Policies Exposed To Unlimited Operations Coverage From Asbestos Claims?
Not all policies state aggregate limits only for the Products and Completed Operations hazards. Some provide a total limit of liability. For example, many umbrella policies use the following Limits of Liability wording:
The limit of the company’s liability shall not exceed the amount stated in Item 2(a) of the declarations as a result of any one occurrence. The company’s liability shall be further limited to the amount stated in item 2(b) of the declarations in the aggregate for each annual period during the currency of this policy separately in respect of (1) the products hazard; (2) the completed operations hazard; and (3) personal injury by occupational disease sustained by any employees of the insured;
In its decision In re Wallace & Gale Co., 385 F.3d 820 (4th Cir. 2004), the Fourth Circuit held that the completed operations aggregate in post operations policies applies where (a) initial exposure occurred after the operations were completed, or (b) initial exposure was during operations but injury continues after operations were completed. Policyholder counsel sometimes attempt to dismiss Wallace & Gale as conflicting with the contract wording. But the Fourth Circuit’s completed operations analysis is based on a straightforward application of the insurance contract language.