What is the innocent land owner defense in relation to CERCLA?

The innocent landowner defense is a legal defense that can be used under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, to avoid liability for cleaning up contamination on one’s property. Specifically, it requires landowners to prove that:

  • The contamination occurred prior to purchasing the land, and the landowner did not know about or have reason to know about the contamination. This is often proven through environmental site assessments done before purchase.
  • The landowner undertook “all appropriate inquiry” into past uses of the property and the likelihood of contamination prior to purchase. This standard requires taking reasonable steps to uncover information about possible contamination.
  • The landowner took reasonable steps to stop any ongoing releases of hazardous substances once found and prevent any threatened future releases. This can include reporting contamination to authorities and preventing access to contaminated areas.
  • The landowner fully cooperated with authorities such as the EPA regarding cleanup once contamination was identified.

The key aspects are demonstrating the contamination was unknown and proving reasonable actions were taken once it was discovered. If landowners meet these standards, they can avoid being held financially responsible for environmental cleanup under CERCLA. The defense aims to avoid penalizing innocent owners unaware of contamination when they bought the property.

Nicholas Moran

Nicholas Moran

Nicholas Moran grew up in sunny south Florida and lives in Boca Raton. He studied geologist and is a licensed professional geologist. He helps environmental and engineering companies implement software solutions to improve their efficiency and effectiveness and is Senior Geologist at MORAN ROCKS LLC, a boutique environmental consulting firm that uses the latest technology and workflow solutions to deliver personalized service at competitive prices.