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Branch v. Western Petroleum, Inc.

ELR Citation: 13 ELR 20362
Nos. No. 17178, 657 P.2d 267/18 ERC 1634/(Utah, 11/08/1982)

The court rules that defendant is strictly liable for pollution of plaintiffs' wells caused by defendant's disposal of waste water, and that punitive damages and damages for mental suffering are proper. The court holds that the ponding of waste water adjacent to plaintiffs' wells was an abnormally dangerous and inappropriate use of land, making defendant strictly liable for the consequences. Alternately, the court holds that pollution of groundwater is a nuisance per se under Utah law, and that such polluters are strictly liable. Even though plaintiffs' wells had a high level of natural contamination, the court holds defendant liable for the total pollution injury to plaintiffs because without defendant's actions, the contamination would be below dangerous levels. Because defendant's actions showed reckless indifference for the rights of others, punitive damages were proper. The court holds that damages for mental anguish are proper in a nuisance action, and reinstates the mental anguish damages awarded by the jury but struck by the trial court.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
George E. Mangan, Herbert W. Gillespie
47 N. 200 E., Roosevelt UT 84066
(801) 722-2428

Counsel for Defendant
Gayle F. McKeachnie, Clark B. Allred
McKeachnie & Allred
53 S. 200 E., Vernal UT 84078
(801) 789-4908