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State high court asked to rule on latent illness coverage


A federal appeals court is asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to decide when coverage may be triggered for latent illnesses, in a case where exposure to hazardous chemicals may have occurred more than 60 years ago, but the injuries only recently manifested themselves.

Sistersville, West Virginia-based Sistersville Tank Works Inc. is defending itself against three West Virginia state tort claims alleging that its negligence in manufacturing its products contributed to latent illnesses suffered by plaintiffs, according to Monday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Westfield Insurance Co. v. Sistersville Tank Works, Inc., et al.

While each of the claimants was diagnosed with their latent illness between 2014 and 2016, they alleged that exposure to hazardous chemicals in STW-manufactured tanks dating back to the 1960s caused their illnesses, the ruling said.

Westfield Center, Ohio-based Westfield Insurance Co. acknowledges that it insured STW under several policies from 1989-2010, and it is uncontested it did not provide insurance to the company in 2014-2016, the years that the claimants’ illnesses were diagnosed, the 4th Circuit ruling said.

The U.S. District Court in Wheeling, West Virginia, issued summary judgment in STW’s favor, finding that Westfield owed coverage to STW under 1985-1989 policies, and because of this the issue of coverage under the 1989-2010 policies is moot.

Critical to determining whether Westfield owes coverage is when insurance policies trigger coverage for a latent bodily injury or illness, the three-judge appeals court panel said.

“The district court and the parties here acknowledge that this is a question of West Virginia state law that has yet to be addressed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals,” the ruling said, in certifying the issue to the state’s high court.

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.