SW Legal studies in Business

Alaska Statute Imposing Strict Liability for Hazardous Waste Creates Private Cause of Action
Description The Alaska high court interpreted a state statute regarding hazardous waste that imposes joint and several strict liability on all parties who contributed waste in the past, so that the parties may be sued by current property owners who must clean up the waste. The usual statute of limitations does not apply to this cause of action, which has few defenses.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Strict Liability; Cause of Action; Hazardous Wastes
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), as receiver of a failed bank's assets, acquired land that had been contaminated by hazardous wastes in the past. After a voluntary cleanup of the property at the request of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the FDIC sued the former landowner and its tenants to recover cleanup costs. It claimed this cause of action existed due to an Alaska statute which imposes strict liability on a joint and several basis for the release of hazardous substances and allows responsible parties to sue for compensation. The defendants asserted that the statute did not create a private cause of action for a liability suit for release of hazardous substances. The Alaska supreme court was asked to clarify the issue of liability under the state statute.
Decision The statute imposing strict liability on polluters for the release of hazardous substances provides a private cause of action for the owner of private property damaged by a release and allows a potentially responsible party who denies responsibility to pursue a cause of action for joint and several strict liability against other potentially responsible parties. Since the FDIC, as owner of contaminated property, was potentially responsible for the cleanup of the property, even though the waste was deposited before its ownership, it has the right to sue contributors to the contamination in the past for contribution, which may be complete contribution of the costs, if the resources are available. The usual six-year statute of limitation in such tort cases does not apply here, so the fact that the waste was deposited more than six years before suit was filed is not relevant.
Citation Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 21 P.3d 344 (Sup. Ct., Alaska, 2001)

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