A continuing dispute is occurring regarding the definition of "sudden" in the "sudden and accidental" exception to the pollution exclusion clause of the standard Comprehensive General Liability (CGL) insurance policies of the 1970s and early 1980s. One prevailing view is that the term "sudden" is not ambiguous, has a temporal aspect meaning "abrupt," and thus the potential application of the exception is limited. Another prevailing view is that the term "sudden" is ambiguous because it has more than one meaning and therefore under insurance law doctrines requires the issue be resolved in favor of the plaintiff insured. A third still developing view has asked the courts to not rely on the definition of "sudden" but to determine the issue through regulatory estoppel. The New York Court of Appeals in Northville Industries v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, a case of first impression, inadequately determined the meaning of "sudden" in the pollution exclusion clause by not providing guidance for future legislation. Thus the case thwarts the very purpose of the clause: limiting environmental liability.
Recommended CitationLiberty F. Cagande, The "Sudden" Interpretation: Northville Industries Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, 16 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 285 (1999)
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