New Jersey’s high court recently agreed to review a decision that Honeywell International Inc. doesn’t have to help cover costs tied to certain asbestos-related injury suits filed after insurers started excluding asbestos coverage, and experts say a ruling reversing the lower court could expand policyholders’ liability for claims over the toxic mineral.
The New Jersey Supreme Court on Monday granted a petition for certification from a pair of excess insurers, St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. and parent Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., in their bid to overturn the decision handed down by a state appellate panel in July. The insurers have been locked in a long-running battle with Honeywell regarding coverage for product liability claims over injuries allegedly caused by asbestos-containing brake and clutch pads made by Honeywell predecessor Bendix Corp.
In its opinion, the Appellate Division panel affirmed a trial court’s holdings that New Jersey law applies to the case and that Honeywell did not have to contribute to settlements or judgments related to claims alleging that asbestos-related injuries manifested after 1987, when asbestos exclusions became commonplace, though the claimants’ first exposure to Bendix’s products occurred prior to 1987.
McCarter & English LLP partner Sherilyn Pastor, who represented Owens-Illinois in the precedent-setting case, said it appears Travelers and St. Paul are attempting to do an “end run” around the 1994 ruling.
“The Supreme Court has already spoken on the unavailability of insurance issues in Owens-Illinois, making clear that the analysis must focus on whether the policyholder consciously chose to ‘go bare’ by not buying insurance,” Pastor said. “Here, it is clear that policyholder did buy insurance for many years until it was unable to do so.”