On April 6, 2020, the California Supreme Court issued a decision that held a policyholder is entitled to access available excess coverage under any excess policy once it has exhausted directly underlying excess policies for the same policy period in Montrose Chemical Corporation v. the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Supreme Court of California, case number S244737. In its unanimous decision adopting this “vertical exhaustion” requirement, the court rejected the “horizontal exhaustion” rule urged by the policyholder’s excess insurers, under which the policyholder would have been able to access an excess policy only after it had exhausted other policies with lower attachment points from every policy period in which the environmental damage resulting in liability occurred.
In 1990, Montrose sought coverage under primary policies and multiple layers of excess policies issued for periods from 1961 through 1985 for environmental damage liabilities arising from its production of insecticide in the Los Angeles area between 1947 and 1982. The ongoing dispute currently arises out of Montrose’s Fifth Amended Complaint which was filed in 2015 seeking declarations concerning exhaustion and the manner in which Montrose may allocate its liabilities across the policies. Each of the excess policies at issue contained a requirement of exhaustion of underlying coverage. The various policies described the applicable underlying coverage in four main ways: (1) some policies contained a schedule of underlying insurance listing all of the underlying policies in the same policy period by insurer name, policy number, and dollar amount; (2) some policies referenced a specific dollar amount of underlying insurance in the same policy period and a schedule of underlying insurance on file with the insurer; (3) some policies referenced a specific dollar amount of underlying insurance in the same policy period and identified one or more of the underlying insurers; and (4) some policies referenced a specific dollar amount of underlying insurance that corresponds with the combined limits of the underlying policies in that policy period. The excess policies also provided, in various ways, that “other insurance” must be exhausted before the excess policy can be accessed.
Reprinted courtesy of Gregory S. Capps, White and Williams LLP and Michael E. DiFebbo, White and Williams LLP
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