(CN) – An insurance company has no duty to defend a U.S. contractor in Iraq against claims alleging torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons, the 4th Circuit ruled. A three-judge panel held that the policy limits coverage to the United States and Canada.
“Under well-established principles of insurance law, the place of the injury – not the place of some precipitating cause – determines the location of the “event” for coverage purposes,” Judge Wilkinson wrote.
In 2003, the U.S. government contracted CACI International to provide logistical and intelligence support for its operations in Iraq, including screening and interrogating detainees at Abu Ghraib and other prisons.
CACI’s commercial liability policies with St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. covered the costs of defending the contractor against any suit for injuries or damage up to $2 million.
The coverage territory was defined as the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, but St. Paul said it would cover injuries that occurred elsewhere if they were caused by a CACI employee who is away for a “short time.”
In 2004, two groups of former Iraqi detainees and their survivors sued CACI, claiming its employees stripped the detainees, threatened them with dogs, kicked and beat them, and forced them to watch family members being tortured, among other forms of torture and abuse. One of the lawsuits accused CACI and other contractors of implementing a “torture conspiracy,” whereby they profited by extracting “intelligence” through torture.
St. Paul refused to indemnify CACI, saying the complaints fell outside the covered territory.
The district court and the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., agreed.
Refusing to apply the “short-time” provision, Judge Wilkinson noted that the complaints “allege a pattern and conduct that spanned several years.”
The judge added: “These descriptions make it difficult to infer that those engaged in such activities were present in Iraq for only a few days.”
However, CACI insisted that some of its employees were “arguably covered.”
The appellate court remained unconvinced. “[T]he underlying complaints present no allegations of abuse resulting from the activities of a CACI employee who was in Iraq for only a short time,” Wilkinson concluded.