Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania gave policyholders another victory in the continuing battle with insurers over application of the “multiple trigger” doctrine. In Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co. v. Johnson Matthey, Inc., the Commonwealth Court held that the multiple-trigger approach – which expands the number of policies potentially available to provide coverage for long-tail liabilities – can be applied to claims involving environmental contamination, rejecting another attempt by the insurance industry to limit application of the doctrine in Pennsylvania. Significantly, the court held that in determining whether the multiple-trigger approach will apply, the critical factor is whether the underlying injury involves a long latency period between the initial exposure to the injurious condition, and the ultimate discovery (manifestation) of the resulting injury or damage. Although the decision arises in the context of coverage for environmental contamination, its reasoning represents a sweeping rejection of recent attempts by the insurance industry to limit application of the multiple trigger to asbestos-related injuries.
The multiple-trigger approach – applied in the context of general liability policies triggered by injury or damage during the policy period – recognizes that an occurrence will trigger all policies in effect from the time of initial exposure to the injurious condition, through progression of the injury or damage, until the date that the injury becomes reasonably apparent (i.e., manifests). When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the multiple-trigger approach through its 1993 decision in J.H. France Refractories Co. v. Allstate Insurance Co., it was in the context of bodily injury claims arising from exposure to asbestos. The court held that all insurance policies in effect from the date an injured party was first exposed to asbestos, through the latent progression of asbestos-related disease, until the manifestation of that disease (typically the date the disease is diagnosed), were triggered, and therefore potentially responsible to provide coverage. The benefit of the multiple trigger for policyholders is that it greatly expands the number of policies that can respond to long-tail liabilities, often including policies issued before the insurance industry applied blanket exclusions to claims arising from conditions such as environmental contamination or exposure to asbestos, silica, or other materials.