What is the Pollution Exclusion in Insurance Policies?

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
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Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

A pollution exclusion in an insurance policy is a provision that does not allow recovery for any property damage or personal injuries caused by an environmental contamination or substance that can be labeled as a pollutant.  What is a pollutant? It varies depending on your insurance policy, but it is most generally defined as damage stemming from chemical properties such as carbon dioxide, convoluted lake water, acidic dye, chlorine gas, sulfuric acid, and other harmful substances with dangerous propensities which are not usually created by natural conditions.  

Typically, insurance carriers implement these clauses within their policy to limit their liability while still adhering to the Comprehensive General Liability policy. While similar in many cases, there are differences in the type and extent of a pollution exclusion clause depending on your policy. Like most provisions in your policy, the legal language used to explain your coverage will be the determining factor for how courts will interpret a pollution exclusion. For example, whether the damage created by the pollutant was intentional or accidental can be contingent on your policy’s use of language. If certain terminology is ambiguous, meaning it has more than one reasonable interpretation, the courts will choose the result most favorable for the insured.

Under Florida Law, you should look out for terms such as “arising out of” the discharge of pollutants when looking for a pollution exclusion clause that differs from a clause barring environmental damage.  The scope of your coverage can also be affected by the language found within provisions. Pollution exclusion language can be an absolute bar to recovery or a partial reduction.   

The inclusion of certain types of damage will be expressly stated, but not always. Other times you will need to find the implication of certain terms and what sources of damage would fall under these categorizations. For example, asbestos may fall under the terminology labeled “contaminant”.  Another example would be the variances in state law. Some state’s such as North Carolina have distinct and separate categories for “pollutant” and “pollution”.

Other states apply a broader form of classification by having “absolute” or “total” pollution exclusions. This may bar any form of liability from government-directed cleanup of damage in an environment. If your policy includes this type of pollution exclusion clause you should be looking for terms such as “release”, “disposal”, and “escaping” to understand the imposition of liability placed on the insurer. “Total” pollution exclusion is somewhat different in that is more limited by removing coverage for releases from products and specified off-site releases of pollutants. It is a modern trend in our legal system that these pollution exclusion classes are being enforced with greater frequency. You may also be entitled to compensation despite having your claim denied if your insurance company erred in the applicability of these provisions or used ambiguous terminology. 

You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at[email protected].

Source: 38 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 3d 477(Updated March 2019)

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