Varlen Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., No. 17-3212 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
At its LASI site, Varlen plated locomotive engine parts in chrome. At its Silvis site, Varlen’s operations included refueling diesel engines. Varlen discovered groundwater contamination at both sites, spent millions of dollars in damages and remediation expenses, and sought indemnification from its insurer. Liberty Mutual denied coverage based on a policy exclusion for property damage arising out of chemical leaks or discharges. Varlen cited a policy provision stating that, despite the exclusion, Liberty would cover chemical leaks or discharges that were “sudden and accidental.” Varlen proffered the expert testimony of a geologist (Rogers) that the LASI contaminants were released because the concrete sump leaked and that the releases were “sudden and accidental” because they were not intended and occurred in sudden spurts when the sump failed. Rogers explained that he had experience working with sumps and had personal knowledge of these sumps in particular. Rogers testified that the Silvis releases were likely “sudden and accidental” because the contamination around the refueling area was too large to have occurred by minor leakage and was “consistent with overfills of diesel locomotives.” Rogers claimed that contamination at the chlorinated solvent storing area was “indicative of a drum overturning and suddenly leaking out.” The district court struck Rogers’s opinions as unreliable and speculative under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. To satisfy Daubert, Rogers needed to explain how the evidence led to his conclusions; Rogers failed to demonstrate that his conclusions were anything more than guesses.