Environmental claims are often unpredictable and despite the fact that associated liabilities can easily cripple a business, most contractors underestimate their potential magnitude. Without sufficient insurance protection, the consequences of such claims can range from costly business interruption to bodily injury and/or property damage lawsuits. The best way to account for this unpredictability is to manage the risks that can lead to environmental claims.
The only way to develop an effective risk management strategy is by conducting a thorough site pollution assessment to determine the various levels of exposure.
Time is a critical factor in this type of assessment. Exposures can exist from both past and future pollution release events. Of the two, past exposures can be more easily qualified and managed. Commonly referred to as “legacy exposures,” these previous events are the known/unknown issues associated with the history of a site. Some typical legacy exposures include:
- Accumulations of small discharges
- Inappropriate storage and handling practices
- Poor structural integrity
- Use of pesticides and herbicides
Legacy exposures may be currently dormant, but can re-emerge during site development, or operation expansion. They can even remain inactive on the property being developed while surfacing in neighboring properties. Such exposures could also be former release events that posed minimal risk initially, and required little remediation. However, now they require additional cleanup. Or the added remediation of these events could also be the result of a change in regulatory standards.
The second level of exposure results from the possible future occurrence of a pollution release event. Known as “operational exposures,” these risks can trigger a major cleanup effort, as well as bodily injury and property damage loss. These events can be sudden and easily identified, or they can be the outcome of a gradual process that has gone unnoticed.
The preferred way to manage these exposures is by transferring risk via an environmental insurance policy. Environmental insurance should be part of the risk management strategy of real estate owners, facility operators, and any other party with a financial interest in a site. An environmental policy can be written to cover only legacy concerns for transactions where there is a risk transfer from seller to buyer. It can also be written to cover only operational risks for a leased location, or if the insured feels that the site history does not warrant coverage for legacy events. Additionally, policies can also be crafted to provide full coverage for a single site or multiple locations.