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Aluminum Co. of America v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.
Washington Supreme Court
998 P.2d 856 (2000)
The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) (plaintiff) obtained an Aetna Casualty & Surety Company (Aetna) (defendant) insurance policy that indemnified Alcoa for damage to its numerous properties scattered throughout the country. Alcoa knew at the time that many of those sites were polluted, but it did not share that knowledge with Aetna because Alcoa had no plans or legal obligations to address the pollution and no intention to file pollution-related insurance claims. In 1980, however, Congress enacted legislation that imposed retroactive liability on polluters for past environmental damage. The legislation forced Alcoa to clean up its properties. When Alcoa’s insurers refused to honor Alcoa’s claims for cleanup-cost reimbursements, Alcoa took Aetna to court in the state of Washington. Pennsylvania law applied to the case. Aetna claimed that Alcoa’s earlier failure to disclose the polluted condition of its property constituted a material misrepresentation that avoided Aetna’s policy. Under questioning at trial, Aetna executives testified that they never believed that the policy covered environmental damage. The jury entered its verdict for Alcoa, and the trial court denied Aetna’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Aetna appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Talmadge, J.)
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