Pollution Exclusion Precluded Coverage for Suit Alleging Harm from Carbon Monoxide

April 21, 2017 | General Liability

The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon has ruled that a pollution exclusion in a commercial general liability insurance policy excluded coverage for claims arising from alleged carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Case

Plaintiffs sued Victory Construction LLC, d/b/a Premier Pools and Spas of Oregon, alleging negligence in the installation and ventilation of a natural gas swimming pool heater and negligence in failing to warn of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning associated with operating the heater in an insufficiently ventilated area. The plaintiffs alleged that, as a result of Victory Construction’s negligence, excessive carbon monoxide had filled their home and had caused them to be sick.

Victory Construction sought defense and indemnity for the lawsuits under its commercial general liability insurance policy. The insurer contended that the policy’s pollution exclusion served to exclude coverage from claims arising from alleged carbon monoxide poisoning.

The insurer went to court, and moved for summary judgment.

The District Court’s Decision

The district court granted the insurer’s motion.

In its decision, the district court ruled that the “plain meaning” of “pollutant,” as defined in the policy, included carbon monoxide. It reasoned that carbon monoxide either was an “irritant” or “contaminant.” The district court noted that the underlying plaintiffs had alleged that, as a result of the insured’s negligence, “excessive carbon monoxide filled the home,” which had caused the plaintiffs to be sick from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The court concluded that it did not have to determine whether the pollution exclusion applied only to “traditional environmental pollution” because the “plain meaning” of the words “irritant” and “contaminant” resolved the case.

The case is Colony Ins. Co. v. Victory Construction LLC, No. 3:16-cv-00457-HZ (D. Ore. March 9, 2017).

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