Civil, Liability

In 2001, it was discovered that the soil in the neighbourhood of La Teja in Montevideo was contaminated with lead. Subsequently, a number of measures were taken by public agencies to remove the contamination and mitigate its negative effects. However, inhabitants were still exposed to the lead contamination. The Public Ombudsman brought a preventive action against the Ministry of Housing, Zoning and the Environment and the Municipal Government of Montevideo. The lower court ordered the respondents to clean up the soil and to facilitate transport and housing for the inhabitants with certain amounts of lead concentrations in their blood. The respondents appealed this decision.

The Appellate Court held that the State was not directly liable for the lead contamination as it had complied with all its obligations so that there was no “failure to serve” under Article 24 of Uruguay’s constitution which imposes civil liability on the State. Instead, the State initiated a number of programs as an attempt to mitigate the environmental pollution. The court held that having taken these measures as a response to the contamination shows that the respondent complied with the duties of environmental protection. The lower court’s decision was therefore overturned and the preventive action dismissed.