The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that an insurer was not obligated to pay damages associated with a hydrochloric acid spill based on a pollution exclusion in the policy.
In Burroughs Diesel, Inc. v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America,1 a trucking company sued its property insurer, Travelers Indemnity Company of America (“Travelers”) when it refused to pay a claim for a storage tank leak which resulted in over 5,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid entering the property and causing significant damage to buildings, vehicles, tools, and equipment. The acid was initially dispensed in liquid form, but quickly became a cloud that engulfed the property. Travelers denied coverage for the claim based on the pollution exclusion because “acids” fell within the policy’s definition of “pollutants.”
The trucking company sued Travelers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleging breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing for refusing to pay the claim. The trucking company argued that coverage was warranted because there is an exception to the pollution exclusion if “the discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape is itself caused by any of the ‘specified causes of loss,’” and the hydrochloric acid cloud was a form of “smoke,” which is a specified cause of loss covered by the policy. The District Court entered summary judgment in favor of Travelers, finding that the trucking company failed to demonstrate that an exception to the pollution exclusion applied. The trucking company appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.