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State Supreme Court asked to rule on latent disease coverage



A federal appeals court is asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to decide when coverage can be triggered for latent diseases, in a case where exposure to dangerous chemicals may have occurred more than 60 years ago, but the injuries only recently became apparent.

Sistersville, West Virginia-based Sistersville Tank Works Inc. is defending against three tort claims in the state of West Virginia alleging that its negligence in manufacturing its products contributed to latent diseases suffered by the plaintiffs, according to Monday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Westfield Insurance Co. v. Sistersville Tank Works, Inc., et al.

While each of the plaintiffs was diagnosed with their latent illness between 201

4 and 2016, they claimed exposure to hazardous chemicals in STW-manufactured tanks dating back to the 1960s caused their illnesses, the ruling said.

Westfield Center, Ohio-based Westfield Insurance Co. admits it insured STW under multiple policies from 1989-2010, and it is undisputed that it did not provide any insurance to the company from 2014-2016, the years when the plaintiffs’ illnesses were diagnosed, the 4th Circuit ruling said.

The U.S. District Court in Wheeling, West Virginia granted summary judgment in favor of STW, finding that Westfield owed STW coverage under the 1985-1989 policies, and because of this, the issue of coverage under the 1989-2010 policies is moot .

Crucial to determining whether Westfield owes coverage is when policies trigger coverage for a latent bodily injury or illness, the court’s three-judge panel said.

“The district court and the parties here recognize that this is a question of West Virginia state law that has not yet been addressed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals,” the ruling said, in certifying the issue to the state’s highest court.

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.


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