Property owners who suffer damages as a result of contamination must be aware of time limitations to recover damages. A New Jersey appellate court recently upheld the rule that, unlike recovery of cleanup costs in contribution actions under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, recovery of other damages under tort theories, such as lost sales, lost rental values and the like, remain subject to the six-year statute of limitations. In 320 Assocs., LLC v. New Jersey Natural Gas Co., (A-1831-16T2) (June 29, 2018), the Appellate Division, upheld a lower court’s decision dismissing Plaintiff’s claims for money damages as untimely.
The owner of commercial property located near a New Jersey Natural Gas property sued the gas company for damages resulting from coal tar that had migrated onto the owner’s property. The owner asserted common law claims against the gas company for negligence, per se negligence, strict liability, nuisance and trespass. It sought damages for a lost sale and lost rental value as well as an order mandating the gas company to cleanup up both properties.
The Appellate Division determined that, since Plaintiff discovered the contamination in 2008, the six year statute of limitations barred all but one claim. Only the nuisance survived for further fact finding because nuisance is considered ongoing so long as the nuisance can be abated.
The case is a reminder that property owners with common law claims need to be aware that, while environmental statutes permit claims for cleanup and cleanup costs without time limitations, other damages are not recoverable if they are asserted after the statutory limitations periods.