Federal laws mandate that four parties may be jointly liable for cleaning up an environmental contamination such as a chemical spill:

  • The current owner or operator of a vessel or facility
  • The owner or operator of a vessel or facility at the time of disposal of any hazardous substance
  • The generators of any hazardous substances located on the site
  • Any transporter of hazardous substances to a site the transporter selected

Can Liability Be Contracted to Specific Parties?

Yes, agreements about liability may be made, but it is not possible to avoid liability altogether by contract. In other words, liability be my apportioned so that one party will bear the costs of cleaning, but no party may shield themselves from liability completely simply through an agreement.  Liability may be imposed retroactively for any contamination that is discovered at a later time.

Are There Any Defenses to Environmental Liability?

Yes, but the defenses are difficult to meet. The allowed defenses are:

  • Act of God or natural disasters
  • Act of war
  • Act of a third party

How Can Anyone Prove an Act of a Third Party?

This defense will only be allowed in very limited circumstances. This is designed to protect innocent landowners, but only provided that they had no reason to know about the existence of hazardous substances and made reasonable inquiries about the land.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Environmental contamination can be a very serious matter for the company and for the environment.  If your business or a related party has had an environmental accident, consult a government lawyer immediately. You or your business may be liable for damages as well as criminal liability.