Iowa SC says pollution clause lets insurer off hook in death

Legal News Line Feb. 23, 2007, 5:16am

Justice Michael J. Streit

DES MOINES -- Carbon monoxide is a form of pollution, the Iowa Supreme Court stated in a ruling released today. Answering a certified question of law in the case of Bituminous Casualty Corporation vs. Sand Livestock Systems Inc. (no. 135/05-1063), the Supreme Court ruled that insurer Bituminous Casualty Corp. (BCC) was not liable in the death of a Sand Livestock employee. The case, currently being heard before Judge Paul Zoss in the Northern Iowa district court, concerns Raymond Gossage, who died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation in the bathroom of a hog facility. Gossage's widow sued Sand, which in turn claimed from BCC. But BCC sought a ruling that Sand's policy did not cover deaths such as Gossage's because of a pollution exclusion provision. Gossage's widow countered that the provision was ambiguous because it didn't make clear whether the scope of exclusion spread beyond the limits of "traditional environmental pollution." The Supreme Court sided with BCC, ruling that "carbon monoxide falls within the extremely broad language of the policies' definition of 'pollutants'." It also ruled that the provision was unambiguous since it was not open to two interpretations. "The plain language in the exclusions encompasses the injury at issue here because carbon monoxide is a gaseous irritant or contaminant, which was released from the propane power washer," wrote Justice Streit for the unanimous verdict.

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