Pollution liability can be a major problem for trucking companies. Typical business automobile liability insurance policies exclude coverage for losses caused by the release of pollutants. These policies define pollutants broadly as any irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste. At some point, most trucking companies will transport something that qualifies as a pollutant just given the broadness of the definition. Therefore, the pollution exclusion in the traditional policy can create a major gap between a company’s risk exposures and their insurance coverage.
The Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980 placed a number of requirements on interstate truckers at the same time it led to widespread deregulation of the industry. One of these requirements involved proof of financial responsibility. To ensure the safety of the public against damage caused by motor carriers who may not have the liquidity to pay resulting claims, the law requires that motor carriers be able to demonstrate the ability to pay any claims up to a statutory minimum.
Almost all personal and business automobile insurance policies exclude coverage for losses caused by pollutants. There is an exception in the case of materials necessary for the function of a vehicle- provided those items were leaked or released from somewhere other than their natural storage or use location.
This can lead to a large uninsured loss exposure for companies regularly engaged in the transportation of a wide range of products that can be considered pollutants. Companies unsure of their coverage could face large losses, including civil judgments and large fines, that put the future of the company in jeopardy.