U.S. Water News Online
RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- A jury recommended that seven
insurance companies help pay to clean up the Stringfellow waste dump
-- one of the most notorious hazardous waste sites in California.
The verdicts are a victory for the state, which has fought for
more than 20 years to get insurers to help cover the costs.
"I'm delighted and relieved with the jury's decision," said Darryl
Doke, a deputy attorney general and co-counsel for the state. "The
jurors had a hard job to do, and I'm impressed with the job they
It has not yet been decided how much each insurer must pay, but
the total award could reach $50 million, lawyers said.
The state reached a $93 million settlement with 16 additional
insurers in February. After two decades of litigation, California has
so far won $121 million for what could be a $500 million cleanup.
Between 1956 and 1972, about 35 million gallons of hazardous
liquids from aerospace and other industries were stored at the
Stringfellow site in Riverside County, about 45 miles east of Los
The chemicals seeped into the water supply and sickened thousands
The jury unanimously held that the insurers violated their
contracts when they refused to pay for the cleanup. It split 10-2 in
favor of the state on whether the state concealed information about
the dump when it first bought the insurance policies.
John A. Peer, an attorney for Yosemite Insurance Co., one insurer
in the suit, said he was disappointed and would appeal.
Superior Court Judge E. Michael Kaiser limited the state's damages
to $50 million before the trial, but the state will likely appeal
Other companies involved in the case were Stonebridge Life
Insurance, Horace Mann Insurance, Employers Insurance of Wausau, CNA
Casualty, Continental Insurance and Continental Casualty.
The decision brings the number of companies that have settled or
been ordered to pay the state to more than 25.
Several companies, including American Home Assurance, New
Hampshire Insurance and the Insurance Co. of the State of
Pennsylvania, settled with the state during the trial.
The battle over the cleanup of Stringfellow began 25 years ago,
when residents sued the state over the contamination. The state
settled, and a federal judge found California liable for the cost of
But when the state turned to its insurers, they refused to pay,
saying the state didn't disclose the site in its applications.
So far the state has spent more than $250 million on the effort,
said Beth Jines, a spokeswoman for the state Water Resources Control
Attorneys for the state have acknowledged the dump shouldn't have
been placed on the site but said at the time they thought it was
The jury agreed.
"If we knew then what we know now, the state never would have done
that," said jury foreman Mark Berg.
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