Supreme Court of Connecticut Applies Occupational Disease Exclusion to Claims by Employees of Companies Other Than Insured

CONNECTICUT – R.T. Vanderbilt Co., Inc. engaged in the mining and sale of various chemical and mineral products. Vanderbilt sold industrial talc from 1948 to 2008. In the past several decades, Vanderbilt has been named as defendant in thousands of lawsuits alleging personal injury through exposure to asbestos in talc and silica mined and sold by Vanderbilt. The company brought an insurance coverage action against several of its primary insurers related to their handling of claims related to such lawsuits, and the lawsuit grew to include umbrella and excess insurers.

The court first affirmed without comment the appellate court’s ruling that a continuous trigger applied to asbestos-related claims, denying the insurers’ bid to present expert testimony regarding current medical science on the actual timing of bodily injury from asbestos-related diseases. The court also summarily affirmed that pro rata allocation applied to Vanderbilt’s claims and that Connecticut would use an unavailability exception to pro rata allocation, such that liability would not be allocated to Vanderbilt in years where no insurance was available.

The court then addressed a unique argument raised by Goldberg Segalla’s Larry D. Mason that an exclusion for claims related to occupational disease applied to prevent coverage. Vanderbilt argued that the undefined term “occupational disease” as used in the exclusion applied only in the workers’ compensation context, and, therefore, the exclusion applied only to claims by Vanderbilt employees. The court disagreed and adopted the insurers’ argument advanced by Mason that the clear and unambiguous meaning of the term “occupational disease” should be given effect. Because the term was undefined, the court looked to several dictionaries to ascertain the term’s ordinary meaning. None of the dictionary definitions limited the term to workers’ compensation. Instead, the dictionary definitions included any disease contracted in the course of employment and peculiar to the conditions of employment.

Moreover, other exclusions in the policies had language specifically limiting their application to the workers’ compensation context. Therefore, the court held that the exclusion applied to preclude coverage for all of the underlying claims that were based solely on occupational exposure to Vanderbilt’s products.

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