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New York Navigation Law Archives

UPDATED: Federal Court Upholds $105 Million Judgment Against ExxonMobil in Bellwether Groundwater Contamination Litigation

Here's a pop quiz: after an eleven week trial in federal court, a jury hands down a verdict of nearly $105 million against ExxonMobil for contaminating New York City's drinking water. On appeal, the verdict is upheld. What environmental law enabled the jury to find, and the appellate court to affirm, such a large verdict? The Superfund Law? The Clean Water Act? The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act?

Owners of Automobile Repair Shop Found Strictly Liable for Petroleum Discharge under NY Oil Spill Act

If you're familiar with the harsh reality of property owner liability under the New York State Navigation Law's Oil Spill Act, this headline shouldn't raise any eyebrows. However, the holding of State of New York v. C.J. Burth Services, Inc., 79 A.D.3d 1298, 915 N.Y.S.2d 174 (N.Y. App. 3rd Dep't 2010), once again confirms the Draconian nature of strict liability for property owners in Spill Act cases. 

Absence of Property Damage During Policy Period

Under New York Law, property damage is deemed to occur within the period of an occurrence-based policy, if injury-in-fact takes place during the policy period. See Continental Casualty Co. v. Rapid-American Corp., 177 A.D.2d 61 (App. Div., 1992). An insurer may only refuse to defend an action, however, where a comparison of the policy with the underlying complaint shows on its face that there is no potential for coverage. See Ruder & Finn, Inc. v. Seaboard Sur. Co., 52 N.Y.2d 663 (1981). 

New York Navigation Law Sec 181. Liability. Sections 5 - 6

5. Any claim by any injured person in for the costs of cleanup and removal and direct and indirect damages based on the strict liability imposed by this section may be brought directly against the person who has discharged the petroleum, provided, however, that damages recoverable by any injured person in such a direct claim based on the strict liability imposed by this section shall be limited to the damages authorized by this section. 

New York Navigation Law Sec 181. Liability. Sections 1 - 2

1. Any person who has discharged petroleum shall be strictly liable, without regard to fault, for all cleanup and removal costs and all direct and indirect damages, no matter by whom sustained, as defined in this section. In addition to cleanup and removal costs and damages, any such person who is notified of such release and who did not undertake relocation of persons residing in the area of the discharge in accordance with paragraph (c) of subdivision seven of section one hundred seventy-six of this article, shall be liable to the fund for an amount equal to two times the actual and necessary expense incurred by the fund for such relocation pursuant to section one hundred seventy-seven-a of this article. 2. The fund shall be strictly liable, without regard to fault, for all cleanup and removal costs and all direct and indirect damages, no matter by whom sustained, including, but not limited to: 

New York Navigation Law Sec. 181. Liability. Section 4

4. (a) The only defenses that may be raised by a person responsible for a discharge of petroleum are: an act or omission caused solely by (i) war, sabotage, or governmental negligence or (ii) an act or omission of a third party other than an employee or agent of the person responsible, or a third party whose act or omission occurs in connection with a contractual relationship with the person responsible, if the person responsible establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the person responsible (a) exercised due care with respect to the petroleum concerned, taking into consideration the characteristics of petroleum and in light of all relevant facts and circumstances; and (b) took precautions against the acts or omissions of any such third party and the consequences of those acts or omissions. These defenses shall not apply to a person responsible who refuses or fails to (a) report the discharge, or (b) provide all reasonable cooperation and assistance in cleanup and removal activities undertaken on behalf of the fund by the department. In any case where a person responsible for a discharge establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that a discharge and the resulting cleanup and removal costs were caused solely by an act or omission of one or more third parties as described above, the third party or parties shall be treated as the person or persons responsible for the purposes of determining liability under this article.(b) Nothing set forth in this subdivision shall be construed to hold a lender liable to the state as a person responsible for the discharge of petroleum at a site in the event: (i) such lender, without participating in the management of such site, holds indicia of ownership primarily to protect the lender's security interest in the site, or (ii) such lender did not participate in the management of such site prior to a foreclosure, and such lender: 

Common Law Recovery of Cleanup Cost for Petroleum Spills

New York's Oil Spill Act, Article 12 of the New York Navigation Law, provides a natural and attractive starting point for people seeking to recover cleanup costs for petroleum spills. The Act's imposition of strict liability holds out the promise of avoiding litigation over events and states of mind for which little or contradictory evidence exists, or that may be vulnerable to highly subjective interpretation long after the fact. Under the Oil Spill Act, if someone's actions caused or contributed to a discharge of petroleum, he is liable for its cleanup, without regard to his state of mind or relationship to others at the time. However, the Oil Spill Act's powerful mechanism of strict liability is not available to everyone who may have been forced to pay for a cleanup of an oil spill. For instance, property owners who are unaware that a fuel oil tank on their property is leaking oil are nevertheless at fault for the spill under the Oil Spill Act, and therefore may not seek full recovery of their cleanup costs from others who may bear more responsibility for the leaky tank. For such a property owner, the only available recourse under the Oil Spill Act may be a contribution action, under which the property owner could only recover part of the total cleanup costs. 

N.Y. Navigation Law Sec. 172. Definitions Sections 15 - 18

Environmental Statutes, Codes, Regulations and Related Materials
N.Y. Navigation Law, Sec. 172. Definitions, Sections 15 - 18

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