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How Insurance Companies are Liable for Asbestos-Related Claims

To help compensate persons diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease or the heirs of a person who has passed away from an asbestos-related disease, it is important to determine whether a defendant has insurance.  Insurance is especially significant because many of the manufacturers and suppliers of products containing asbestos are no longer in existence and/or do not have the ability to pay a settlement or judgment. 

With insurance, even if the entity that manufactured, distributed or supplied asbestos products no longer exists or has no assets to pay a settlement or judgment, the insurance company may be obligated to defend the insured entity and/or pay for a settlement or judgment. 

Many, if not most, of the manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos-containing products had insurance set forth through Standard Comprehensive General Liability policies.  Before 1966, standard insurance policies were "accident-based" policies, where insurance "applies only to accidents which occur during the policy period."  "Accident" was usually defined as a sudden and unexpected event that was not intended by the insured to happen.  Comprehensive General Liability Policy Forms, 1955. 

In 1966, the Standard Comprehensive General Liability policy was revised to an "occurrence-based" format.  "Occurrence" was usually defined as an "an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to conditions, which results in bodily injury . . . neither expected nor intended from the standpoint of the insured."  Comprehensive General Liability Policy Forms, 1966.  The coverage provided by accident-based policies was much narrower than coverage for occurrence-based policies, as accident-based policies only cover "unexpected and unintended events which are also sudden."  Armstrong World Industries, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. (1996) 45 Cal. App. 4th 1, 103.

However, even with the change from "accident" to "occurrence," it appears that Standard Comprehensive General Liability policies provide insurance coverage for claims of asbestos-related bodily injuries.  See id. at 47 and 103-104.  For a specific insurance policy to provide coverage, the "injury" must occur during that policy's period. 

The Court of Appeal in Armstrong affirmed the trial court's finding that "injury" occurs upon exposure to asbestos and continues until death or a claim is made.  Id. at 63.  This is called "continuous trigger," whereby all insurance policies are triggered that were in effect at any time between when the exposure to asbestos occurred until death or a claim is made.  Id. at 47-48.  And even if there was an accident-based policy in effect, the release of asbestos fibers was found to be a "sudden event" and thus covered.  Id. at 104.   

Although there is a presumption that all insurance policies are triggered that were in effect from the date of the plaintiff's first exposure to the insured's asbestos product until the date of death or claim, if the insurance company can prove that the plaintiff was not exposed to its insured's asbestos-containing product during or after the policy period, then that insurance company's insurance would not be triggered.  Id. at 60.  In other words, "coverage is triggered if either (1) the claimant was exposed to the manufacturer's products during the policy period or (2) the claimant was exposed to the manufacturer's products at an earlier time such that during the policy period the claimant was experiencing latent asbestos injury from that earlier exposure."  Id. at 63. 

If you believe you or a family member have been exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing products and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is important to speak with an attorney, preferably one that specializes in mesothelioma lawsuits.  Exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer.  A mesothelioma attorney can help you determine who is responsible for your injuries, even when the exposure occurred decades earlier.   Contact our office today for a free consultation with one of our attorneys:  1-800-440-4262.