By Daphne Zhang
“There are a lot of PFAS coverage claims, but not all that many coverage lawsuits yet,” said Scott Seaman, a Hinshaw & Culbertson partner who represents insurers. “We’re going to be inundated with a lot more cases.”
Only three federal courts have ruled that insurers must pay for companies’ legal bills in PFAS lawsuits. But insurance professionals say they fear that PFAS lawsuits could soon mimic what happened to the industry in the big asbestos court battles of the past 40 years, a development that could bankrupt manufacturers and companies down the supply chain.
Businesses already have been paying huge court-approved settlements for PFAS liabilities, while many PFAS insurance disputes have been settled outside of the courthouse, attorneys say.
PFAS refers to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the thousands of man-made chemicals developed and used in consumer products since the 1950s.
Some PFAS help firefighting foam smother the hottest fuel blazes. The chemicals’ oil-, heat-, and corrosion-resistant properties make them ideal to produce semiconductors, communications technologies, nonstick pans, water-repellent fabrics, and even disposable pizza boxes and takeout food containers.
But it takes extraordinary means to break down some PFAS chemicals once they’re released into the air, water, and land—which is why they’re called “forever chemicals”—and traces are thought to be in the bloodstream of nearly every American. The health concerns have become public only in recent years, with some PFAS linked to cancer, liver damage, and low birth weight.