Toxic and Environmental Torts within Admiralty

Parties involved with the manufacture and transportation of toxic substances expose themselves to the worst of all forms of civil sanction: uncertain and essentially unpredictable liability. The rapid growth of the chemical age has not been accompanied by a consistent system of rights and liabilities. This problem becomes worse when the facts implicate admiralty jurisdiction. Even with its historically flexible nature, the general maritime law has not fashioned contemporary answers to these questions. Maritime law has been tempered with the admiralty's disinclination either to supersede traditional state tort law and thereby offend principles of federalism or to preempt legislative solutions and thereby offend the doctrine of separation of powers. International efforts to develop comprehensive plans for toxic and environmental liability have not succeeded. Various federal statutes govern cleanup liability yet do not provide any remedy for individual victims. This paper surveys the principal forms of maritime law governing toxic and environmental liability focusing on the areas of contemporary concern. Although products liability actions are highlighted, other types of liability actions are discussed to demonstrate the impact of maritime law on toxic and environmental torts.