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Pollution Exclusion Bars Coverage for Claims that House was Damaged by Bat Guano

July 2013

A federal district court in Louisiana has ruled that a pollution exclusion barred coverage for allegations that damage to a house was caused by the accumulation of guano in and below the attic, which had become a bat roosting colony.  

The Case 

Michael Marcelle alleged that his home's attic had been invaded and damaged by a colony of bats.  He notified his homeowner's insurer, Southern Fidelity Insurance Company ("SFIC"), which denied his claim. Marcelle sued SFIC, which moved to dismiss his claims. 

The Court's Decision 

The court granted SFIC's motion, finding that Marcelle's alleged bat-related damages were excluded from coverage under his policy. 

The court first found that bats did not fall within the policy's exclusion for loss caused by "vermin."  The court found that "vermin" was capable of more than one reasonable interpretation, and therefore, was ambiguous.  It construed the term against SFIC and in favor of coverage. 

The court ruled, however, that damages caused by bat guano and urine fell within the policy's pollution exclusion as "waste" or "pollution."  It explained that the "plain, ordinary and generally prevailing meaning" of "pollutants" and "waste" in the context of this policy exclusion contemplated a rather "expansive scope of materials," including waste products or other impure or unclean materials that contaminated or rendered an environment harmful or unsuitable for a specific purpose. 

The case is Marcelle v. Southern Fidelity Ins. Co., No. 12-2762 (E.D. La. June 19, 2013).

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Alan S. Rutkin, Partner

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