In our last post, we spoke a bit about when a party can be held liable for cleanup of a contaminated site as well as the extent to which a potentially liable party can be held accountable. As we mentioned, though, there are some circumstances that can lead to reduced or no liability for a contaminating party.
Contamination that can be attributed to an “act of God” or an “act of war,” can limit or eliminate liability, as can contamination which is caused by a third party with no contractual relationship with the potentially responsible party. The latter situation is known as a third-party defense. In addition to these defenses, various exemptions exist for different parties, depending on the circumstances.
One of the exemptions recognized by the EPA is that potentially responsible parties may not be held jointly and severally liable for contamination if they can show that the harm they caused is separable from the harm caused by other potentially responsible parties. Though such cases do not occur often, it is certainly possible. Another exemption is for companies and individuals who were contracted to investigate and engage in cleanup activities at Superfund sites. Such parties may not be held responsible for contamination except in cases where they act with negligence or intentional misconduct. Landowners also have liability protection in certain circumstances.
Though it is important to ensure that contamination gets cleaned up, it is important that the EPA doesn’t unfairly target a suspected contaminating party. Those who face the prospect of liability for environmental cleanup can work with an experienced environmental attorney to ensure they have assistance navigating the process and to ensure they are not held to an unfair degree of responsibility for cleanup.