Peabody Essex Museum, Inc. v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., No. 13-1528 (1st Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
A few decades ago, an oil spill occurred on property in Salem, Massachusetts that was owned by Peabody Essex Museum. The pollution from the spill migrated to the land of a down gradient neighbor, Heritage Plaza. In 2003, Heritage Plaza discovered the subsurface contamination and notified the Museum. The Museum, in turn, gave prompt notice to state environmental authorities and to its insurer, United States Fire Insurance Company (U.S. Fire). The Museum filed a coverage suit against U.S. Fire and, in 2013, secured a judgment requiring U.S. Fire to pay the Museum over $1.5 million, including punitive damages under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. In this appeal, the parties challenged multiple district court rulings. The First Circuit affirmed the challenged rulings related to insurance coverage but reversed the finding of Chapter 93A liability and vacated the district court’s associated award of punitive damages, holding that U.S. Fire’s conduct under these circumstances was not the kind that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has condemned as egregious settlement misconduct that is actionable under Chapter 93A.