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T&E Indus. v. Safety Light Corp.

ELR Citation: 21 ELR 20872
Nos. No. A-93/94, 587 A.2d 1249/32 ERC 1931/(N.J., 03/27/1991)

The court holds that a distant predecessor in title to a radium-contaminated site is strictly liable to a subsequent owner for damages caused by the predecessor's abnormally dangerous activity at the site. From 1917 to 1926, the predecessor corporation processed radium at the site and discarded radium waste onto unimproved portions of the site. The court first rules that a property owner can assert against a predecessor in title a cause of action sounding in strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities. The court holds that the doctrine of caveat emptor does not bar the plaintiff's cause of action. The former owner of the property whose activities caused the hazard might have been in the best position to bear or spread the loss. With knowledge of its activity and use of the land, the seller is in a better position to prevent future problems arising from its use of the property, and allowing a buyer to recover would place liability on the party responsible for creating the hazardous condition and marketing the contaminated land.

The court next holds that the predecessor's activity at the site was abnormally dangerous. Although the risks involved in the processing and disposal of radium might be curtailed, one cannot safely dispose of radium by dumping it onto the vacant portions of an urban lot. Moreover, the extraordinarily hazardous nature of radium makes the processing and disposal of that substance particularly inappropriate in an urban setting. The court further holds that, even though knowledge is typically not an element in strict liability offenses, the defendant knew enough about the abnormally dangerous character of radium processing to be charged with knowledge of the dangers of disposal. Finally, the court holds that on remand the trial court should consider evidence of damages proximately resulting from defendant's disposal of the radium, other than the cost of the time that the plaintiff's president spent addressing the problem of the site's contamination. The court further holds that the trial court need not relitigate damages already awarded by the jury, but those damages must be reduced by the amount of the diminished value of the contaminated land.

[A related decision is published at 18 ELR 20926.]

Counsel for Defendants-Appellants
Albert G. Besser
Hannoch Weisman
4 Becker Farm Rd., Roseland NJ 07068
(201) 535-5300

Counsel for Plaintiff-Respondent
Edward A. Zunz Jr.
Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti
Headquarters Plaza, One Speedwell Ave., Morristown NJ 07962
(201) 538-0800