Carbon monoxide death liability claim fails on pollution exclusion (US)

Two tenants of a second-floor unit in an apartment building (condominium) in Florida USA died in their bedroom, after inhaling carbon monoxide gas whilst asleep.

Carbonmonoxide death liability claim fails on pollution exclusion (US)

Two tenants of a second-floor unit in an apartment building (condominium) in Florida USA died in their bedroom, after inhaling carbon monoxide gas whilst asleep. The gas was believed to have come from a car in the unit’s garage. It seeped into the air-conditioning system of the unit and entered the bedroom through the system’s ducts or vents. The liability insurance claim failed because of a pollution exclusion in the policy. 

The Homeowners Association (HOA) in control of the condominium was sued for wrongful death. The insurers approached the court for a declaration that they owed no duty to defend the action on behalf of the HOA. The insurance policy contained a Total Pollution Exclusion which included aBuilding Heating, Cooling and Dehumidifying Equipment Exception.

 

According to the exclusion, the policy does not cover bodily injury which would not have occurred but for “the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape of ‘pollutants’ at any time”. Carbon monoxide is a pollutant under the policy.  

 

The exception provides that the exclusion does not apply to bodily injury if sustained within the insured’s building caused by smoke, fumes, vapour or soot produced by or originating from equipment that is used to heat, cool or dehumidify the building.

The courtrejected the HOA’s argument that the carbon monoxide fell within the exception ontwo bases.  Firstly, the State Complaint filedby the HOA did not allege that the carbon monoxide was produced by ororiginated from the building equipment (it stated that the carbon monoxide wasbelieved to have come from the car). Secondly, the carbon monoxide did not originate from theair-conditioning ducts or vents merely because it travels through them.

The exception did not apply, and the policy did not provide cover. The court order can be accessed here

More News Stories

August 24, 2020
Labour disputes in the age of COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought about many changes in the workplace and its effect on the economy has been widespread and detrimental.

Read story
August 18, 2020
POPIA and the insurance industry

The main substance of the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPIA) came into effect on 1 July 2020.

Read story
July 23, 2020
Kidnap and Ransom Insurance

Kidnap and Ransom (K&R) Insurance is not a new concept and evidence exists of this type of policy as far back as the 16th century.

Read story