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TWIN FALLS, Idaho-The phrase "sudden and accidental" in the standard pollution exclusion is unambiguous, the Idaho Supreme Court has ruled.
Continuing a recent trend among state supreme courts, the Idaho court said, "It is not reasonable to interpret 'sudden' to include an event that occurs over anything other than a short period of time."
The court also ruled that accidental means "an event that is unusual and not expected."
In North Pacific Insurance Co. vs. Mai, the dispute centered on a Superfund site for which the Environmental Protection Agency had deemed Leslie Mai a potentially responsible party.
As the owner and operator of the Grease Monkey & Bengal Car Wash in Pocatello, Idaho, Mr. Mai had used Ekotek Inc. between 1984 and 1987 to transport more than 33,000 gallons of waste oil to its reclamation and reprocessing facility in Salt Lake City. In 1988, the EPA began remediating the Salt Lake City site.
After Mr. Mai was informed he was a PRP, he turned to his insurer, North Pacific, for coverage.
North Pacific, a unit of General Accident Corp. of America, sought summary judgment denying coverage, citing the pollution exclusion in the policy.
The state supreme court said it did not have enough facts to grant summary judgment, but it did rule that the pollution exclusion was unambiguous. The case now will go back to a trial court.
"In the past five months alone, four state supreme courts have joined the ranks of courts finding that the word 'sudden' contained in the pollution exclusion is unambiguous and contains a temporal element," said Thomas W. Brunner, a partner at Wiley, Rein & Fielding in Washington, which is counsel to the Insurance Environmental Litigation Assn. The other three states are New York, Utah and Wyoming, bringing to 14 the total of state supreme courts that have found the "sudden and accidental" pollution exclusion unambiguous.