A New Tool for Victims of Environmental Contamination

The BC Supreme Court has provided some guidance on injunctive relief available in environmental contamination cases. In Ward v. Cariboo Regional District, the plaintiffs owned a rural residential property near Williams Lake that used a gravity sewage system operated by the Cariboo Regional District. The property suffered from two floods in 2015 and 2020, which resulted in raw sewage flooding the property. After the first flood, the District paid to restore the plaintiffs’ basement and chlorinate the plaintiffs’ well, but they did not take any steps to remove the sewage from the pasture or ponds. The District denied liability for the second flood.

As a result of the District’s lack of action to remedy the situation, the plaintiffs commenced an action against the District in trespass, nuisance, and negligence. The plaintiffs also sought to recover their costs of remediation under BC’s Environmental Management Act (EMA).

In its lengthy decision, the Court found the District liable in trespass, nuisance, and negligence for both floods. However, the Court found that the cost recovery claim under the EMA was premature because the plaintiffs had not actually incurred any costs of remediation to date.

The lawsuit led to the Court imposing a range of injunctive relief to force the District to clean up and remove the current contamination, restore the land, and implement repairs and preventative measures in order to decrease the likelihood of another flood event that could further pollute the land. The Court also awarded the Plaintiffs $35,000 in non-pecuniary damages, $12,000 in special damages and $30,000 for the loss of use and enjoyment of their land (assuming the injunctive relief was completed within a year).

After the decision was released, the District filed an appeal and sought a stay of the injunctive orders. The Court of Appeal allowed a partial stay on some of the injunctive relief. The appeal has yet to be heard, but the lower Court’s decision indicates that a party responsible for polluting another’s property may be responsible for remediating the property and eliminating the cause.

This case underscores the potential of the EMA to be used by victims of contamination to obtain more than just monetary compensation, and to force polluters to take positive steps to stop the contamination itself.

Keep checking back for an update on the appeal.

This post was co-authored by Richard Bereti and Nicola Virk.

Want more useful updates on recent decisions? Contact Richard Bereti at [email protected], Nicola Virk at [email protected] or anyone else from our team listed on the Authors page.