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Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. Long

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 30, 2018

Auto-Owners Insurance Company, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
William Long, as Administrator of the Estate of Theodore Long, and Ellen Long, Individually, Appellees-Plaintiffs, Dean Loucks and The Art of Design, Defendants. [1]

          Appeal from the Elkhart Superior Court The Honorable Charles Carter Wicks, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 20D05-1706-CT-142

          Attorney for Appellant Stephen C. Wheeler Smith Fisher Maas Howard & Lloyd, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Douglas A. Mulvaney David T. Stutsman Elkhart, Indiana

          Bradford, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] While working at a United States Postal Service processing facility, Theodore Long was exposed to a hazardous substance shipped by The Art of Design ("the Insured") in violation of certain postal regulations. This appeal arises out of a declaratory judgment action filed by Long's Estate ("the Estate") to determine the applicable limits of the Insured's commercial general liability insurance policy ("the Policy") issued by Auto-Owners Insurance Company ("Auto-Owners"). The parties filed competing motions for summary judgment, with Auto-Owners arguing that the applicable Policy limits were $1, 000, 000 and the Estate arguing that the applicable Policy limits were $2, 000, 000. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Estate, finding that the $2, 000, 000 Policy limits applied. Because we conclude that the $1, 000, 000 policy limits apply, we reverse and remand with instructions for the trial court to enter judgment in favor of Auto-Owners.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] In February of 2009, an employee of the Insured mailed a box containing ten bottles of a chemical product known as Medium Reducer AMR-2712 ("the Reducer") to an individual located in Florida. The Reducer contained toxic chemicals such as toluene. During the shipping process, the box was passed through a conveyor system known as a secondary induction-singulator ("the Singulator") at a Postal Service processing facility in Allen Park, Michigan.

         [¶3] While passing through the Singulator, the box broke open and the bottles spilled out of the box. One of the bottles was damaged and leaked onto a conveyor belt, releasing toxic fumes. As he worked to clean up the spill, Long observed that the box was not labeled as containing hazardous materials and had been sealed only by a piece of masking tape.

         [¶4] During the clean-up process, Long was overcome by the fumes and later went to the hospital. The Estate claims that he was permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained when he was exposed to the chemical fumes. The Estate also claims that the exposure to the Reducer was a direct and proximate cause of his death on June 24, 2016.

         [¶5] After investigating the spill, Postal Service employees determined that the Insured had violated Postal Service regulations relating to both the labeling and packaging of hazardous materials. Specifically, the Insured had failed to properly label the box to indicate that it contained hazardous materials and to package the Reducer in such a way as to prevent the box from breaking and the bottles from leaking. Had the box been properly labeled, it would not have been put through the Singulator but, rather, would have been hand-sorted.

         [¶6] On June 19, 2017, the Estate filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of the applicable Policy limits provided in the Policy. The Estate and Auto-Owners filed competing summary judgment motions. Following a hearing, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Estate.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶7] Auto-Owners appeals from the trial court's grant of ...


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