A recent article from Thompson Coburn LLP that provided tips for environmental due diligence for buyers in business transactions caught our attention. Why? Conducting research into historical environmental problems is one of our specialties at Taylor Research Group.
There are, of course, some big differences. The affected West Calumet Complex in East Chicago falls within an already designated EPA Superfund site where years before companies “smelted, dealt with or processed lead for decades,” according to CNN. The EPA has since sued several of these Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs). But attorneys will now have to determine to what extent governmental agencies share in ongoing remedial efforts.
Product liability is not necessarily an area of law many people immediately associate with the need for conducting historical research. After all, litigation over an injury involving burns from a hot cup of coffee or an exploding soda bottle doesn’t have much to do with dusty old historical documents. Or does it? What about an injury sustained while operating a piece of machinery that came with an inadequate instruction manual? Or an injury from a household product that had a misleading label? And what about the potential successor liability risks involved when acquiring a company that might have manufactured a defective product?
We’ve been closely tracking litigation related to the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), which seeks to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and includes state-by-state mandates. Recently, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the plan until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit completes its review.
Last week, citizens of Flint, Michigan filed two class-action lawsuits against Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and other government officials. These follow a declared state of emergency in Flint, a pending investigation from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan, a declared federal emergency by President Obama, and an emergency order issued from the EPA to the state of Michigan.
As mentioned in a previous case study, much of the work we do in support of environmental law and toxic tort cases involves compiling comprehensive site histories. We work with our clients to come up with cost-efficient research strategies to answer their most pressing environmental and historical questions for litigation. Rarely do we get the chance to work outside our normal realm of legal clients and beyond the scope of a single site history, but that is exactly what happened over the past year in this unique case involving research into fossil fuel disasters in the United States for a non-legal client.
It’s been over a week since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inadvertently released an estimated three million tons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, which temporarily turned the river orange. The long term effects on the 126 mile-long waterway that flows south from Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to Farmington, New Mexico where it joins with the San Juan River, are yet to be discovered.
Given our extensive knowledge of federal, state, and local records collections, law firms and businesses often come to us in search of historical documentation that will support their cases or tell their unique stories. But when we take on projects, we never know just how much documentation we’ll discover. Sometimes it’s a lot – enough to fill up several Bankers Boxes. Other times, it’s not so much, and only a file folder or two is required. Recently, we unearthed a handful of documents for an environmental case, though we had combed through many relevant collections at federal repositories in the Washington, D.C. area. This was a perfect example of finding the proverbial needle in the haystack, where one document (out of only the aforementioned handful) proved invaluable to our client.
Much of the work we do in support of environmental law and toxic tort cases involves compiling comprehensive site histories. We work with our clients to come up with cost-efficient research strategies to compile these site histories, which help answer their most pressing environmental or historical questions. We’ve broadly discussed this type of work before in relation to chemical releases into local waterways. Today, we’d like to take the opportunity to discuss a specific case in which we reconstructed the history of an entire city block.
In our last post, we provided insight into how we find information for our clients. We explained that we spend most of our time in the field at libraries and archival repositories because, even in the era of Google, most of the historical records we’re after just aren’t online. Maybe they will be one day, but not any time soon. That’s not to say that public libraries, government agencies, and cultural institutions aren’t doing their best to digitize their collections and make them accessible online. Many repositories have embraced the power of the crowd to carry out their public-service oriented missions, which is good news for the general public and historical researchers like us who have insatiable appetites for finding and interpreting historical information.