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How To Avoid Liability for Your Neighbor's Toxics

You're a property owner, and you have nothing to do with hazardous materials. You don't use, make or transport them. How can you be liable if someone else caused the contamination?

Under CERCLA, it's easy. You didn't do anything, but you're still liable because you own the newly contaminated property.

Make sense?

Not to a lot of people, but that's essentially the law. It's more of a public policy thing - Congress wanted to make as many people as possible liable for cleanup of toxic contamination so there would be more money available.

But, rationality is beginning to set in.

The USEPA has issued new guidance (see entry on 1/22/04) that tells landowners how to avoid liability for contamination caused by your neighbors' actions.

It's actually pretty simple: "demonstrate that you did not cause, contribute, or consent to the release of hazardous substances; you are not affiliated with a liable party in any way (familial, financial, contractual); and you have taken reasonable steps to stop any continuing release, and prevent or limit human and environmental exposure to the hazardous substances."

Don't you feel better now?

It's actually a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea. How to avoid liability in three easy steps.

Sounds like a great title for a self-help book. Hmmmm.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, February 05, 2004

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