AIG wants judge to toss $58 million Harrison verdict

CLARKSBURG -- Chartis and AIG plan to ask a Harrison County judge to toss a $58 million jury verdict from earlier this week involving a leaking tank at a gas station.

On Tuesday, a Harrison Circuit Court jury awarded $58 million to the owners of a Hess Oil gas station in Mount Storm. That included $5 million in compensatory damages and $53 million in punitive damages. This Hess Oil is not the large national company, rather a small local one.

The story begins more than a decade ago when the owners of the gas station discovered an oil spill near the station in 1998. Legal action followed, including litigation about the environmental cleanup company.

AIG had a policy with the plaintiffs and began to pay coverage when the leaking tank was reported. There was a $1 million limit on the policy, and about $900,000 was paid out. Then, AIG apparently learned the event that triggered the claim occurred before the station was covered under the policy.

Michael J. Romano, a Clarksburg attorney who represented the plaintiffs, told businessinsurance.com that the Chartis units -- Commerce & Industry Insurance Co. and Chartis Claims Inc. – claim Hess Oil misrepresented the facts in its 1997 insurance application and that the company "duped" Chartis. Romano denies that assertion.

Before the trial, Chartis offered a $100,000 settlement that Romano's clients rejected because they "felt they need to be vindicated," Mr. Romano told the website.

But, Chartis and AIG now want their own vindication.

They are asking the judge "to set aside a clearly erroneous jury verdict that awards compensatory damages unsupported by the facts and law and punitive damages that are clearly excessive and unjustifiable," the companies said in a statement. "The inarguable fact is we paid out 90 percent of the limits of the policy over a decade's worth of cleanup to a policyholder who did not provide us with material information when it took out its policy.

"The facts, law and justice do not support the jury's verdict."

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