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Judges rule that Gratiot County home owners cannot sue polluters for property damage

This week the Court of Appeals published its opinion in Raul Silva, et al v. CH2M Hill, Inc., a case brought by a number of Gratiot County homeowners whose property was damaged when a contaminated Velsicol chemical plant was negligently decontaminated between 2000 and 2006, spreading toxic sediments through the neighborhood.  The DEQ informed the plaintiffs of the damage to their property in July of 2008 and related the damage to the Velsicol plant in January of 2009: the plaintiffs filed suit in January 2010.

The trucking firms involved as defendants argued that they were entitled to summary disposition because the owners had not pleaded any recognized exception to no fault immunity.  The Trial Court agreed and its decision was upheld by the appellate court. No fault provisions severely limit when a vehicle owner can be sued for negligently inflicting property damage.

The site clean-up contractors also sought summary disposition.  They argued that the homeowners waited too long to sue.  They relied on a recent decision by the Republican activist majority on Michigan's Supreme Court that wiped out the "discovery" extension of the statute of limitations.  It was the contractors' position, among other arguments, that environmental remediation and removing contaminated sediment do not constitute "property improvement."

The appellate judges agreed with the lower court's decision and affirmed its holding that removing contaminated sediment isn't a property improvement that would extend the statute of limitations to six years from the date of injury.  It also held that the long-standing common law "continuing wrong" extension of the statute of limitations (where a wrong continues to be visited upon a victim by the negligent or trespassing party--preventing the running of the statute of limitations) was abolished by our insurance-friendly Supreme Court.  The Republicans on the Court ruled several years ago that the statute of limitations begins to run with the first of the repeated wrongs, and even if the victim is unaware of the injury or the source of the injury during the limitation period, the victim is still precluded from seeking compensation if the pertinent time period has run.  On this basis, the homeowners were required to file suite five years before they learned of the injury to their property and six years before they knew the source of the injury.

I wonder how these homeowners feel about "tort reform" and the insurance-friendly, Repblican activist judiciary today?  On the bright side, apparently none of the homeowners'  families suffered uncompensated health problems as a result of the unknown contamination.  That's a relief, since those, too, would not be actionable.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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