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Looking at some legal bases for environmental litigation

Previously, we looked briefly at the claims made in a lawsuit filed against carpet manufacturers and distributors, who are accused of polluting the Coosa and Conasauga rivers, causing elevated levels of toxins which require expensive filtration. For any business, evaluating environmental liabilities should always be part of thorough risk-mitigation efforts. This includes not only complying with state and federal statutory obligations, but also exercising reasonable care with respect to environmental resources the company has at its disposal.

Liability for the misuse of environmental resources can be based on the failure to carry out obligations under federal and state statutes, as well as ordinary common law. With respect to environmental law statutes, enforcement is often reserved to federal and state agencies, though in some cases individual citizens or other private parties may bring suit to enforce these laws, as is the case with the Clean Water Act. 

Under common law, there are several common types of claims that can be brought. Nuisance is one such type of claim, which implies interference with the plaintiff’s quality of life and enjoyment of his or her own property. Environmental damage done to property can become the subject of a nuisance claim. Trespass is another potential type of environmental claim, which involves some sort of interference or invasion of another individual’s property. Contaminating the property of another with toxic substances can qualify as trespass.

Negligence and strict liability are two other types of claims that can potentially be brought in environmental litigation. While negligence involves unreasonable actions or omissions which resulted in the contamination of property or harm to others—the key word being unreasonable. Strict liability does not require unreasonable actions or omissions, but typically involves inherently hazardous substances or activities, for which a party can be held accountable, regardless of how reasonable that party’s actions were.

In our next post, we’ll look at an environmental lawsuit based on fraud, which is yet another potential cause of action in environmental litigation. 

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