The state of Montana won a district court lawsuit that ruled that National Indemnity Co. (NIC), an insurance company wholly owned by Berkshire Hathaway, was liable for almost $100 million in damages entitled to asbestos victims in the small mountain town of Libby.

This was ruled in 2018. Now, the Montana Supreme Court is set to hear this pending case to finally put to rest the lack of coverage NIC failed to commit when hired to protect the state government from specific liabilities related to asbestos exposure.

NIC was originally responsible for the payment of a full settlement, given the fact that the state was a client of the insurance company during July 1, 1973, and July 1, 1975. Because of the dangers of asbestos exposure in a local vermiculite mine, the settlement was involved with claims related to the exposure. This settlement amount for the residents of Libby was estimated to be about $43 million to more than 200 victims.

John Sullivan, a private attorney representing Montana in this case, said that National Indemnity Co. had the mandate to represent the state when the asbestos victims brought their claims of injury in 2002. Sullivan said that the company failed to do so.

Critical health damage from asbestos exposure can take decades to develop, Sullivan said. Because of this long latency period, NIC should be held in further accountability to cover claims and cases that developed in the years after the insurance contract was up.

“For almost 20 years, NIC has been able to avoid its contractual duties to defend the state,” Sullivan said in a statement sent to The Missoulian newspaper. “NIC admits that loss is the reason the state has had to pay multi-millions of dollars to settle thousands of claims. Its duty to defend is triggered by notice of potential claims.”

The Montana Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision in the case in 2021.

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