At Meissner Tierney our environmental law practice is generally divided into two areas.
First, we have a national presence in the defense of insurance companies in complex toxic tort and related cases. In such cases, our insurer clients are in a dispute with one of their insureds regarding the applicability or scope of coverage provided in relation to the underlying environmental liability. We apply our great familiarity with these types of claims in an attempt to eliminate or limit our client’s potential liability, usually based on contract or common-law principles governing general liability insurance policies.
Second, we represent business clients with respect to the reporting, investigation and remediation of environmental issues, usually on commercial property. Our attorneys have assisted the firm’s business clients—both big and small—through the often complex process of navigating through the environmental laws to obtain site closure for properties with difficult contamination issues.
We advise our business clients on matters related to the purchase and remediation of certain properties that are commonly called “brownfields.” Typically, such properties were previously used for industrial or other commercial uses and have since been contaminated by various concentrations of hazardous waste or other pollution. Despite their condition, many of these lands are in urban areas now being revitalized, and such lands have the potential to be profitably reused once properly cleaned up. The general public is served by the remediation of prior pollution on abandoned properties. As such, there are often grants and other public resources available to address such sites.
With respect to all these issues, our attorneys advise clients on how best to navigate all dealings related to their interests in “brownfields.”
CERCLA (Superfund) & RCRA
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, and (“RCRA”) are federal laws designed to address lands or waterways that have been—or are being—contaminated with hazardous substances. Sites implicated by these laws are regulated by the EPA and often severely contaminated with high concentrations of hazardous waste or other pollution.
Our attorneys have represented clients in relation to their rights, obligations and overall liability regarding such sites, which is strict liability under CERCLA. This includes addressing the government’s requirements for both short and long-term response actions to permanently reduce the risks associated with releases or threats of release of hazardous substances—and the potentially very large sums required to pay for such actions.
In addition, we advise clients regarding their important rights to seek contribution from other parties for the costs and liability related to cleaning up these sites. Such contribution rights and litigation related to enforcing them help to limit our clients’ liability and spread the costs of remediation among all responsible parties.
Similar issues arise with respect to analogous state environmental laws and regulations, on which, again, our attorneys have significant experience advising clients.
Environmental Coverage Liability
We have a national presence in defending insurance companies in complex claims made by their insureds for underlying environmental or toxic tort liability to third parties, frequently the government. In such cases, our attorneys have vast experience with all aspects of litigating such claims, from the proper—and often technical—fact investigation and discovery to conduct, to the proper expert witnesses to retain, and, most importantly, to identifying policy terms and insurance principles that limit or eliminate our client’s potential coverage liability.
Our attorneys have litigated such disputes—including many seeking indemnity coverage in the multi-millions of dollars—throughout Wisconsin as well as in state and federal courts across the country.
Our attorneys have represented property owners—both commercial and residential—who run into issues involving governmental regulation of environmentally sensitive areas generally consisting of marshes or similar types of native vegetation. There are strict regulations regarding the use, impairment or destruction of such “wetlands.” We help clients to understand the applicable environmental laws and regulations related to such lands and to properly adhere to those limitations, all while accomplishing their legitimate activities on or around these protected lands.