In the landmark decision of Curd v. Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC., the Florida Supreme Court recently determined commercial fishermen have both statutory strict liability and common law negligence claims to recover damages caused by discharge of pollutants into Florida’s waters. Given the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, marine pollution is on the forefront of the Nation’s mind. As explained below, this case provides recourse to those whose lives and businesses were harmed by the pollution of Florida’s waters.
The Florida Supreme Court first determined Florida’s Pollutant Discharge, Prevention & Removal Statute gives fishermen who lost revenue as a result of pollutant discharge a strict liability cause of action against the polluter. This means fishermen need only prove:
- The defendant discharged pollutants which entered Florida’s waters; and
- The pollutants caused the fisherman economic damages.
The fishermen need not prove the polluter was negligent in the care, handling or disposal of the pollutants in order to recover. This is a major victory for fishermen because they have a relatively light legal burden of proof and can more easily recover damages from polluters than they would under a common law negligence claim.
In addition to finding commercial fishermen have a strict liability claim under the Florida statute, the court also determined they have a common law cause of negligence. The court held Florida common law implies that companies owe a duty keep, store and dispose of pollutants in a reasonably safe manner so as not to economically harm the state’s fishermen. Should a company breach this duty, it will be liable for the economic damages of the fishermen.
Though this case deals with commercial fishermen, it has a boarder holding. As worded, the opinion provides these rights to any person or company damaged by the discharge of pollutants! Theoretically this means:
- Boat and personal water craft rental businesses,
- Recreational fishing guides,
- Charter boat companies,
- Nautical and marine sightseeing businesses,
- Seafood restaurants,
- Beach concessionaires, and,
- Any other business that lost revenue due to the pollution.
Given the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, this holding provides many of Florida’s gulf coast business affected by the spill recourse against BP and Transocean.