Polluter Pays, Property, Contract, Liability, Forests, Permits, Evidence
This lawsuit involved the allocation of responsibility amongst a number of current and previous owners and operators of a property on which a retail gas bar operated for approximately 38 years under the Chevron banner. The gas bar was decommissioned 1978. The clean up costs were modest ($120,000) but were significant in comparison to the value of the property (approximately $216,000). Probably the most interesting finding in the case is that the parties who owned and operated at the property after 1978 (when contaminating activities had ceased) were assessed 50% of the liability. Under the Act, any 'responsible person' can be held liable for the costs of cleaning up a contaminated property. In the Court's opinion one does not actually have to cause or contribute to the contamination in order to be a 'responsible person' – merely owning, leasing or occupying property may be sufficient. The court allocated 50% of the cleanup costs to passive owners of the property who did not contribute to the contamination. The remaining 50% of costs were allocated to a gas bar that had been operated on the property. With respect to the costs owed by the passive owners, 25% were allocated to the owner who had removed the contaminating system, but failed to fully remediate the contamination, and the remaining 25% were billed to the subsequent owner, who had bought the property with no prior knowledge of the contamination or the fact that the property had been used as a gas bar. Interestingly, no liability was attributed to Chevron as the sole producer, supplier and transporter of the gas that caused the contamination because they did not have sufficient control of the activities that actually led to the contamination (i.e. use of leaky storage tanks, valves and piping). Also, no remediation costs were allocated against former directors of dissolved companies, despite the fact that those companies were found to have contributed to a significant amount of the site contamination.