Lawsuits involving water pollution can be brought under federal or state law. Water contamination is a public health concern that can affect people at great distances from the origin of the problem. If the source of the problem can be proven with certainty, the law imposes significant liability and allows substantial damages.
State Law Is the Traditional Basis of Water Pollution Liability
Traditionally, if a third party did anything that contaminated the water flowing to your property, you could sue under various theories of liability for injury to yourself or your property. The lawsuit would be based on nuisance, trespass, strict liability, or negligence. Nuisance claims interference with your quality of life. Trespass claims contamination of your property by another party. Strict liability claims another party should be held responsible because he was dealing with a dangerous substance. Negligence claims personal injury or damage to property based on carelessness.
Mass Lawsuits Based on State Law Have Had Limited Impact
State law is effective when the water pollution can be traced to a particular party. It is much less effective when the source of the contamination cannot be traced or when a connection between the contamination and an injury cannot be made with scientific certainty. An important element of all cases based on state law is causation. Groups of plaintiffs who are trying to prove that contaminated groundwater has increased the likelihood that they will get cancer, for example, may have a hard time proving a definite link between a defendant's actions and a health issue that did not develop for 10 or 20 years.
Federal Law Has Made it Easier to Go After Polluters
The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Superfund law set specific water standards and permit requirements and force polluters to clean up contamination or reimburse others for cleanup. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can pursue companies that violate the law directly. If you run out of resources to identify the responsible party and prove causation in a private suit, the EPA can step in and continue the investigation with the full resources of the federal government.
Federal Law Allows Citizen Lawsuits
The CWA allows anyone who is or may be affected by water contamination to bring a citizen suit in federal court. This turns members of the public into environmental watchdogs. You can bring a lawsuit against any entity that is violating the law and request an order to stop the contaminating activity. You can also request civil penalties, court costs, and lawyers' fees.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding personal injury caused by water pollution is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a personal injury lawyer.