Insurance Archaeology Unearths Big Payoffs

Article excerpt

Companies that are persistent in their search for old environmental policies can dig up better coverage and big payoffs. With the nation's total environmental cleanup bill estimated up to $750 billion, "it's understandable why companies can't afford to overlook any potential source of recovery," said Sheila Mulrennan at an Association of Professional Insurance Women Conference in New York. Ms. Mulrennan, who is president of the Insurance Archaeology Group Ltd., highlighted techniques and gave examples of how 'insurance archaeologists' unearth historic policies for coverage for environmental exposures.

It is not just companies that produce or use hazardous materials that may be put on notice; nowadays, virtually any company can be pulled into the widening spiral of litigation surrounding a cleanup site, Ms. Mulrennan said. Luckily, if a company learns that it is liable for cleanup costs, these can be covered by whatever insurance was in force at the time the pollution occurred. Thus, the need for insurance archeology.

Old insurance policies may now be worth millions of dollars toward enormous legal and engineering fees connected to the cleanup of hazardous waste sites as opposed to current policies that offer little protection for companies put on notice.

"It's understandable why many companies in almost every industry are eager to focus on the past and what kind of coverage they had; it helps them to avoid negative reporting exposure and also to offset millions of dollars in cleanup costs," Ms. Mulrennan said. She pointed to the strength of insurance assets that are discoverable in broader, aggregate-free policies written for companies decades ago.

Is there a catch to receiving environmental liability protection? Only that companies must either have the policy in hand, or prove that it once existed--an acrobatic feat at best, considering most companies' poor record-keeping. Enter the skills of the insurance archaeologist.

In many cases, a company cannot find the actual insurance policies, but only "secondary evidence"--which is any information about a policy whatsoever. …