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Not All Missing Policy Cases Require Sherlock Holmes

Law360 Insurance Authority

Being unable to locate physical copies of policies from decades ago can be daunting, but legal experts say the best approach can be as elementary as starting within the policyholder's own records.


The Hunt For Historical Policies

Jim Murray of Blank Rome LLP told Law360 that legislation that opens the door to historic liability leads to the need to locate decades-old policies. For example, he pointed out that the passing of statutes such as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and Superfund laws caused policyholders to search for coverage dating to the 1930s since the companies could be found liable for conduct that contributed to environmental contamination during that era.

"Very few entities have been assiduously keeping their historical policies," Murray said.


Looking In Unexpected Places

It's not often that policies are hiding in plain sight, though. Blank Rome's Murray pointed out policies are rarely located in clearly labeled boxes.

In some instances, documents with enough information to identify a policy are found in old payment ledgers. Insurance-related paperwork can also be hiding in unlikely places, Murray continued, recalling a case in which a diocese's missing $15 million policy was located in the bee-infested attic of a barn.

Murray said the best philosophy to employ when searching for a lost or missing policy is to be perseverant.

"Follow every lead and don't give up," said Murray.

Similarly, Horkovich described a search akin to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that resulted in the discovery of policy information in a Texas building that also housed armadillos and rattlesnake nests.

While finding a physical copy of a policy is ideal, Blank Rome's Murray said that any document containing a carrier's name, duration of coverage and policy limits is valuable. That information, he said, can pave the way for discovery of other secondary evidence that can be used to establish an agreement's terms and conditions if a policy has been lost.

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"Not All Missing Policy Cases Require Sherlock Holmes," by Shane Dilworth was published in Law360 Insurance Authority on October 7, 2022.