Oregon: Ask Governor to Veto Controversial Pollution Liability Bill

Please contact Gov. John Kitzhaber to ask him to veto NAMIC-opposed SB 814, Insurance for Environmental Claims, which will interfere with an insurer’s right to enforce the terms of its insuring agreement. The proposed legislation passed out of the Assembly on a 55-2 vote and out of the Senate without a single nay vote, so NAMIC member grassroots advocacy is greatly needed.

The proposed legislation would retroactively rewrite commercial general liability insurance policies to require insurers to provide pollution clean-up coverage that was never agreed to by the parties, underwritten by the insurer, and paid for by the policyholder.

SB 814 is a problem for ALL insurers, not just commercial insurers because it would establish a very troubling legislative precedence of ignoring the Oregon state Constitution, overturning recent court rulings on pollution liability claims, and would retroactively interfere with the contractual rights and responsibilities of insurers and policyholders.

SB 814 also retroactively invalidates certain insurance policy exclusions thereby creating contractual uncertainty for insurers and policyholders. Further, SB 814 could create new liability exposure (treble damages bad faith) for insurers in their standard commercial liability claims adjusting practices.

NAMIC met with legislators in both chambers to express concern about the anti-insurance consumer nature of SB 814 and the public policy dangers of resolving a general societal problem (cleanup of the Portland Harbor properties) with a legislative fix that specifically targets commercial insurers and their policyholders. Unfortunately, the bill is politically charged so legislators, even those receptive to insurer concerns, were unwilling to vote against the bill. Therefore, the governor needs to hear directly from constituents about their concerns.

If you live in Oregon, please contact the governor or email him to ask him to VETO SB 814. If your company has operations in Oregon, please urge your in-state employees, agents, and policyholders to get involved and contact the governor.

In your communications with the governor’s office, please consider the industry talking points on the bill and the legal opinion on the unconstitutional nature of the retroactive application of SB 814 drafted by former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz, who was retained by NAMIC in collaboration with the other trades, to educate legislators about the legal problems with the bill and to refute the claims of the proponents of SB 814 that it doesn’t violate the Oregon state Constitution.

Also consider mentioning that the proposed legislation will significantly increase insurance defense costs and create enormous liability coverage exposure for insurers, which will adversely impact affordability of commercial liability insurance for businesses in the state.

Christian J. Rataj
State Affairs Manager