By Kevin L. Connors, Esquire

In Pennsylvania National Mutual Insurance v. St. John, 106 A.3d 1 (Pa. 2014), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the applicable trigger of coverage in a case involving injuries to dairy cows that became sick within months of the negligent installation of a piping system that supplied their drinking water.

Applying the manifestation trigger for coverage purposes, the Supreme Court concluded that determining coverage rested on two factors, one being the specific policy language in question, the second, obviously, being the facts of the occurrence in question.

Holding that “consistent with the first manifestation rule … coverage is triggered under one of the … policies when a bodily injury or property damage becomes reasonably apparent.”, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the trigger for coverage does not require the cause of injury to be known or reasonably discoverable.

Rejecting the insured’s alternative argument that the continuous trigger adopted in J.H. France Refractories v. Allstate Insurance, 646 A.2d 512 (Pa. 1993), a holding concluding that asbestos bodily injury claims constituted continuous, progressive property damage, with the Supreme Court in St. John, focusing on the policies’ specific language, which uniquely and explicitly provided that the damage which occurs during the policy period includes any “continuation, change or resumption of that … property damage after the end of the policy period”, as well as the parties reasonable expectations, i.e., that the manifestation trigger would apply, as the Supreme Court distinguished the damages at issue in St. John, explaining that unlike asbestos-related injuries, the property damage in St. John “did not lay dormant for an extended period.”

There being no significant time lapse between exposure, injury, and manifestation, the application of the continuous trigger was obviated.

Considering public policy, the Supreme Court also concluded that “this case does not present the problematic scenario where a risk-adverse insurer takes steps to limit or terminate coverage, in anticipation that future claims have not yet materialized but can be predicted with almost near certainty.

Without adopting a blanket rule requiring application of a continuous trigger in all progressive property damage cases, the Supreme Court nevertheless did not foreclose that trigger under the right circumstances.

The takeaway from this case is that spilled milk sours quickly.

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Questions concerning tort and/or contract liability that might arise in the context of casualty claims can be directed to Kevin L. Connors at kconnors@connorsodell.com (Phone: 610-524-2100 Ext. 112).