Past Insurers Liable for Old Toxic Torts

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Environmental torts, insurance.

Cargill, Inc., v. Ace American Insurance Co.. MN environmental torts, insurance.

Cargill was sued in various environmental lawsuits in Oklahoma and Arkansas, for damages allegedly arising over a fifty year period. Cargill brought this declaratory judgment action in Minnesota, asserting that all insurers over that period of time had a duty to defend.

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that court can order primary insurers who insure the same insured for the same risks, and whose policies are triggered for defense purposes, to be equally liable for the costs of defense based on equitable contribution. The Court further held that a primary insurer has an equitable right to seek contribution from any other insurer with a duty to defend.

This right to seek contribution is based upon equitable grounds, regardless of privity of contract between the insurers. In so holding, the Court overruled its decision in Iowa Nat'l Mut. Ins. v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., 276 Minn. 362, 150 N.W.2d 233 (1967).

No. A08-1082, 784 N.W.2d 341 (Minn. June 30, 2010).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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