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State v. Green

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20800
Nos. No. 108, 96 N.Y.2d 403/(N.Y., 07/05/2001)

The court holds that a trailer park owner is liable under New York Navigation Law Article 12 (known as the Oil Spill Act) for the cost of cleaning up a kerosene spill from a 275-gallon tank owned and maintained by a tenant of the trailer park. After the tank fell on the ground in 1992, it spilled kerosene on the ground, and no attempt was made to clean up the spill until the state intervened. The court first holds that under Article 12, a discharge includes any intentional or unintentional action or omission resulting in the spilling of petroleum. Nothing in the statute requires proof of fault or knowledge. In fact, the language is sufficiently broad to include landowners who have both control over activities occurring on their property and reason to believe that their tenants will be using petroleum products. The court further holds, therefore, that the owner's failure, unintentional or otherwise, to take any action in controlling the events that led up to the spill or to effect an immediate cleanup renders it liable as a discharger. As the owner and lessor of the trailer park, the owner had the ability to control potential sources of contamination on its property, including maintenance of the 275-gallon kerosene tank. The court additionally holds that such liability will only attach when, as here, the property owner is in the position to control the site and the source of the discharge. The court finally holds that interpreting the term discharger to include landowners like the park owner is consistent with the Navigation Law's intent to enable the state to respond swiftly to oil spills and ensure that adequate funds are available to effect the cleanup. The park owner, however, is not without redress and can seek contribution under the Navigation Law.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (8 pp., ELR Order No. L-377).

Counsel for Appellant
Patrick Barnett-Mulligan
City Attorney's Office
50 Delaware Ave., 4th Fl., Buffalo NY 14202
(716) 858-4600

Counsel for Respondent
Kenneth C. Gobetz
Wichler & Gobetz
400 Rella Blvd., Suffern NY 10901
(845) 368-1710