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As an environmental lawyer, leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) are not by any means a new phenomenon to me. But if you’re a homeowner, or potential homeowner, having issues with an UST, the odds are that it will be the first time that you've encountered them and you might be overwhelmed by what it entails.
I’m here to tell you that you can survive a leaking UST. It might seem scary at first, but with proper guidance and the correct professional approach, you can and will survive.
How do you know when your underground storage tank is leaking? There are various ways for the discovery to be made. Often, clients come to us because their furnace or heater stopped working. Once that happens, one of the first questions that must be asked is whether or not there is a hole in the UST that contains the oil. If there is a hole, you might be losing the oil to the environment, and therefore nothing is left to feed the furnace.
Other clients learn that they have leaking tanks when they try to sell their homes. It is now commonplace as part of transactions involving USTs for purchasers to insist that sellers prove that the tanks are in good working order. Often some kind of test is involved, and when necessary the seller is required to remove the tank before the sale can proceed.
Under many state and federal laws, there is a requirement that the tank leak be reported to the government. Often, this will result in the leak being assigned a case number and a case manager will be assigned to oversee the cleanup of the spill. Oil leaking into the environment violates state and federal laws. It is certainly no laughing matter, and knowledge that your tank is leaking oil requires immediate action.
If you find out that your tank is leaking, here are some measures that you may want to consider:
Often, insurance companies will initially deny these types of claims. If that occurs, it is important for your attorney to evaluate the claim denial and determine whether an appeal should be filed. There might be an administrative appeal available, and there might also be a need to resort to the Courts. A word of warning: if you need to file suit, there is usually a very short time period allowed for such a suit to be filed. If you miss it, you may lose you right to file suit forever.
Tank cleanups can often involve groundwater contamination. If groundwater contamination is involved, there are varieties of technical methods available for addressing it. It is up to you, your consultant, your lawyer, and the regulatory agency to determine which method makes the most sense under the circumstances. And it will be important for everyone to agree on a single approach.
You should know that oil tank leaks also result in injury to third parties, specifically neighbors and anyone else with drinking water wells that may be impacted. Sometimes, those neighbors commence suit or file a notice of claim against the owner of the leaking tank. Should that happen, it is important that you provide the notice of claim or the lawsuit to your lawyer and insurer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will want to defend you properly and may very well tender the defense of the claim to your insurance company.
If you are currently having issues with a leaking UST, please feel free to contact our office to speak with a member of our legal team. Our firm has assisted many clients with UST leaks; including parties who own or inherited a leaking tank, as well as nearby property owners affected by UST leaks from other properties.