Toxic Waste Site Poses Liability Conflict

Toxic Waste Site Poses Liability Conflict

The town of Ringwood, New Jersey is enduring a legal battle over a Ford Motor Co. 1960s dumpsite that is now eliciting serious health and safety ramifications for current residents.  Ford commonly used the 900-acre plot of land in the 1960s and 1970 to rid the company’s industrial waste. Now however, the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the cleanup of the polluted soil and lead-based paint sludge to be the shared responsibility of Ford and the town of Ringwood. 

The dumpsite has already cost the municipality of Ringwood an estimated $130 thousand and according to town officials, should not be the responsibility of the town.  Ringwood instead, is suing six insurance companies responsible for the borough at the time of the dump for legal fees, expenses and other liabilities resulting from the toxic waste. 

The town’s Mayor, Joanne Atlas has commented, “Everyone is on board with this, and we really don’t see that we have any other recourse.  Ford has made a lot of money and saved a lot of money, all at our expense.  Now that it’s time to pay the piper, they’re using the borough as a shield.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in a state Superior Court seeks to quickly cover expenses accrued through legal fees and claims made against the municipality.  In addition to the EPA’s orders, the town is also on the verge of a potential horde of lawsuits from people who have been injured by the toxic waste site.  Thus far, there has been a number of residents who have reported cancer and other diseases, suspecting that the dumpsite may be to blame. 

“We’re on fire right now,” commented Al Telsey, an attorney representing Ringwood in the case.  “First the EPA said we’re bad and our hair was on fire.  Then the people said they might sue us and we’re totally in flames.” 

In 1993, the town of Ringwood paid $144,700 to the Environmental Protection Agency for administrative costs.  This out-of-pocket payment avoided a requirement by insurance agencies at the time prohibiting the town from seeking future environmental claims. 

Telsey has commented on this decision, “The lawyers back then were very smart.”

Insurance companies targeted in the lawsuit include:  Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., Selective Insurance Co. of America, ARI Insurance Co., Continental Casualty Co.  Executive Risk Indemnity Inc., Zurich American Insurance Co., and any others found to be involved. 



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