A federal court in Arkansas has determined that Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. has a duty to defend an agricultural cooperative in more than 170 civil lawsuits filed by rice farmers over the contamination of their conventional crops with a genetically engineered (GE) variety. Riceland Foods, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., No. 10-00091 (U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. Ark., W. Div., decided June 8, 2011). The court found that while the relevant commercial general liability policies precluded coverage for cross-pollination, they were silent as to liability for the physical mixing of a contaminating crop “with conventional rice during harvest, processing, transportation, or storage,” which the plaintiffs alleged in addition to cross-pollination as an independent cause of their injury. The court held that “the duty to defend remains when cross-pollination is presented as one of several potentially independent causes of the damage.”

The court also determined Liberty had no obligation to defend a European rice distributor that was sued in a French court, because the matter involved contract damages only, which were not covered under the policy.