Hoke LLC Prevails in Massive Connecticut Supreme Ct. Asbestos & Talc Case

Last Friday, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its long-awaited landmark ruling in the Vanderbilt Minerals insurance coverage case establishing critical insurance principles impacting “long-tail” claims such as asbestos, talc and pollution.  The case was identified as the first “Most Important Case to Watch in 2019” in the U.S. by leading insurance website Insurance Law360.  Hoke LLC has successfully represented the policyholder, Vanderbilt Minerals, LLC, at trial over a two-year period and throughout the appellate process against approximately 30 insurance company defendants.  The opinion describes the case as a “massive coverage dispute” involving historical insurance policies from 1956 to 2007, which produced the most pleadings ever filed in a Connecticut state court civil action. Some of the noteworthy details are as follows:

  • In an issue of first impression in CT, agreed with Vanderbilt that “continuous trigger” applies to asbestos bodily injury claims meaning that all “occurrence” policies from first exposure must provide coverage;
  • In another issue of first impression, agreed with Vanderbilt that the “availability rule” should be applied, resulting in the allocation of defense and indemnity beginning on the date of first exposure, but ending in 1986, because asbestos insurance was not available after 1986;
  • Agreed with Vanderbilt that there should not be an “equitable exception” to the “availability rule” resulting in an allocation of defense and indemnity to Vanderbilt from 1986 to 2008 – the year in which Vanderbilt stopped selling talc;
  • In another issue of first impression, agreed with Vanderbilt that the standard pollution exclusion unambiguously does not bar coverage for underlying asbestos bodily injury products liability actions;
  • Rejected the insurers’ attempt to introduce expert medical testimony establishing that bodily injury does not occur until within 5-10 years of manifestation of disease which would have resulted in a policyholder effectively having no coverage for asbestos risks; and,
  • Finally, held that a broadly worded “occupational disease exclusion” contained in some of the pre-1986 policies bars coverage for underlying actions that solely allege exposure to a Vanderbilt product in the workplace.

The opinion is available here.