Cleaning Up the Dead

There's a local murder case here in Cincinnati, Ohio that has many residents fascinated. The husband is accused of drowning the wife in the bathtub; the husband says his wife frequently fell asleep in the tub and simply drowned. The first trial was declared a mistrial due to jury misconduct; the second trial was a hung jury. The man recently completed his third trial, which resulted in a guilty verdict.

The case has received a tremendous amount of press, and the courtroom is full of spectators. While the cleanup of the body is not really an issue in the case, it comes up in many homeowners’ claims where an insured died and the body was found several days or weeks later after starting to decompose. It also can arise in situations where the insured commits suicide in a messy way — such as by gunshot — leaving remains to be cleaned up.

Oddly enough, I get such questions annually; it happens more commonly than one might expect. The questions I receive all center on the same issues: Is there coverage for the cleanup of a dead body? Or is it excluded under the pollution exclusion?

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Critical in determining coverage is the definition of pollution. The policy states that pollutants are solid, liquid, gaseous, or thermal irritants or contaminants and include smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, chemicals, and waste.

Waste is material to be recycled, reconditioned, or reclaimed. The remains of a deceased person are none of these; the intent of the exclusion is for industrial byproducts, not human remains. Had the policy wanted to exclude human remains, it easily could have done so. As exclusions are to be read narrowly and in context, remains do not fit. So there is in fact coverage for the cleanup of a deceased person.

Do you agree?

 

This blog post is meant to provide insights into insurance coverage issues in general, and does not necessarily account for the differences in law and practice in different venues. As such, the opinions expressed within should not be construed as legal advice for the unique circumstances of any particular claim or suit. 

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