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Trident Inv. Management, Inc. v. Amoco Oil Co.

Citation: 30 ELR 20131
No. Nos. 98-1428, -1495, 194 F.3d 772/49 ERC 1257/(7th Cir., 09/21/1999)

The court affirms a jury award for damages in a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit brought by the owner of a shopping center that was contaminated by a neighboring gasoline station's leaking underground storage tanks (USTs). The court first holds that it will not overturn the jury's damage computation on the basis of the characterization of the leaking gasoline as a temporary or permanent injury. The decision to leave this question to the jury is supported by ample precedent, and the characterization of an injury as temporary or permanent is only a means to determine the actual damages incurred. The court further holds that the jury instructions did not suggest that the shopping center could receive damages for a lost sales opportunity. Rather, they quite clearly refer to that portion of the change in fair market value that was proximately caused by the station's leaking USTs. The court next holds that the jury instructions properly limited the damage award to the losses for which the station is responsible. The court rejects the station's argument that the jury awarded the center damages based on losses incurred because of general market conditions rather than the gasoline leak. The damages were based on the contamination, which rendered the property virtually unsaleable by creating a substantial risk of liability to potential purchasers. The fact that the environmental problem may have turned out to be small and manageable in the end is irrelevant to the kind of risk a buyer might have perceived ex ante, when the fact of contamination first became known.

The court also holds that evidence of the contamination's discovery, the center's sale, the station's stipulation of liability, and the station's past practices was relevant to the center's value attributable to the leaking USTs. Last, the court holds that the district court properly dismissed the center's claim for punitive damages because the station would be unfairly prejudiced by the amendment, which was offered only after the station stipulated to liability and more than two years after the center brought its initial suit.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Frederic R. Klein
Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom & Moritz
55 E. Monroe St., Ste. 3700, Chicago IL 60603
(312) 201-4000

Counsel for Defendant
Richard C. Godfrey
Kirkland & Ellis
200 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago IL 60601
(312) 861-2000

Before Bauer and Evans, JJ.