A US court found that liquid and solid forms of the illegal drug methamphetamine (a highly addictive stimulant known as meth and by other names) was an excluded “contaminant” for the purposes of a house owner’s insurance policy.
The insured’s grandson resided with the insured. The police executing a search warrant discovered liquid and solid methamphetamine in the basement of the house. The local department of public works posted an order to vacate on the house requiring testing for the drug and, if it was found, cleaning up the house before it could be re-occupied. The insured claimed the costs of testing and cleaning up.
The policy excluded “the costs to comply with any ordinance or law which requires any insured or others to test for, monitor, clean up, remove, contain, treat, detoxify or neutralise, or in any way respond to, or assess the effects of pollutants in or on any covered building or other structure”. The policy defined pollutants as “any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapour, soot, fumes, acids, alkalise, chemicals and waste”. The policy did not define “contaminant”. The court referred to a dictionary meaning of “something that contaminates” including “to make unfit for use by the introduction of unwholesome or undesirable elements”. The court found that meth fell within that ordinary meaning of a “contaminant”. The house was unfit for human occupation resulting from the presence of meth which was therefore a contaminant and was excluded as a “pollutant”. The cost of cleaning up the meth from the house was not covered by the policy.