When insureds are involved in automobile accidents, volunteer fire departments typically respond and render environmental cleanup services. A collection agent for the volunteer fire departments often attempts to recover the expenses for the clean-up costs from accident victims and their insurance companies by contending that a right to collect such charges existed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). 42 USC § 9601 et. seq. John Trimble and Richard K. Shoultz represented The Insurance Institute of Indiana, Inc., Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and Wisconsin Insurance Alliance in asking the Seventh Circuit to affirm the Northern District of Indiana’s dismissal of the collection agent’s lawsuit against the insureds and insurance companies. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal, concluding that an insured’s use of an automobile that may have been involved in an accident qualified as part of a “consumer product” exception under CERCLA, which prohibited the use of the act to recover for environmental cleanup costs.
It is anticipated that this decision will be a significant one in curtailing volunteer fire department’s efforts to overcome budget shortcomings by imposing environmental cleanup costs upon insureds and their insurance companies.
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