Insurance for IEI fire subject of dispute

Provider seeking federal court ruling

PARKERSBURG — In addition to facing five class-action lawsuits over last year’s fire at the Intercontinental Export-Import Plastics warehouse in Parkersburg, the Naik group of companies is engaged in legal action to determine what, if anything, its insurance will cover related to the incident.

In March, Arizona-based Gemini Insurance Company filed a complaint seeking declaratory judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on whether it must cover claims related to the fire and what companies and individuals are covered by its policy with Sirnaik LLC and Green Sustainable Solutions, two Naik companies. It says the policy excludes claims based on pollution and situations that were not accidental, as some of the suits against the companies allege.

“Gemini is denying coverage, and they’ve gone to federal court (to get a ruling) that there is no coverage,” said Michael Hissam, with the Charleston firm of Hissam Forman Donovan Ritchie that is representing the IEI warehouse owners.

The ruling could conceivably affect the state of West Virginia’s ability to recover more than $1.4 million paid to Wood County authorities for costs associated with fighting the fire, which burned for 10 days at the former Ames plant site. Representatives with the governor’s office and Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

The defendants named in Gemini’s complaint are the companies Sirnaik LLC, Green Sustainable Solutions, Surnaik Holdings of WV, Polymer Alliance Services and IEI, which are named in the lawsuits, along with multiple individual members of the Naik family.

In their June response, the defendants argue they are entitled to coverage and all named defendants are covered by the policy.

In July, an amended response was filed, including counterclaims against Gemini, USI Insurance Services and one of its agents, John Kehoe. The companies allege USI and Kehoe “negligently and recklessly breached their duty” by failing to provide them with insurance that would cover the claims related to the fire.

No response had been filed on behalf of USI and Kehoe as of Friday.

An Aug. 29 motion asks the court to include the claims against those third parties in the ongoing litigation with Gemini. The court has not issued a ruling.

Gemini says it is currently providing legal defense to the entities named in the class-action suits over damages from the fire, but notes in its complaint that it is seeking “damages for any defense costs spent for matters for which there is no coverage under the policy.”

Gemini’s attorney argues in the filing that those include “coverage for all damages caused by pollutants, which the policy defines as smoke or soot which emanated from the fire” and “actions deemed not to be accidental.”