Yes. Negligence claims are often asserted in environmental lawsuits. For instance, in Ronald Holland’s A-Plus Transmission & Automotive, Inc. v. E-Z Mart Stores, Inc., neighboring landowners brought an action against the former owner and lessee of a gas station based on negligence after soil and groundwater tests revealed fuel-related constituents on their neighbors’ land.
As in any negligence case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached the duty, and that the breach proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury. In this regard, the plaintiff generally claims that the defendant has a duty to conduct itself in a manner as to not contaminate the plaintiff’s property. However, the standard of care can be a moving target as the appropriate standard of care will change with advancements in technology and some pollution is an unavoidable part of certain industrial activities. As one commentator stated, “spills will occur, lines and tanks will leak, and equipment upsets will happen because human action is involved.”
Generally, the prior owner of real property is not liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on property after the conveyance, unless the conditions were not disclosed or actively concealed. However, the exception does not apply if the buyer discovered or should have discovered, or had actual notice of the conditions. It should be noted that ownership is not an element of the claim and will not preclude a party from asserting a claim.
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