Saint Charles, MO asked in Energy, Oil and Gas and Environmental for Maryland

Q: Is owner of rowhouse with 2 mth old oil spill in basement responsible for adjacent rowhouse being unlivable due to smell

The rowhouse homeowner was doing renovations & hired a contractor to remove the old oil tank in the basement. They dropped the tank and oil spilled on basement floor. The smell permeated the walls of the adjacent rowhouse causing an overpowering smell. The dog began throwing up. The 6-month-old baby & 3-year-old child became sick. The family had to move in with other family because their home was unlivable. The homeowner has refused to clean up the oil, so the family can’t return home. This was 2-3 months ago, and the oil spill remains on the floor of the basement. By now, the furniture, flooring, and walls have likely absorbed the smell, as well. What recourse does this family have for forcing their neighbor to, not only clean up the oil in his basement, but to also make him responsible for entirely ridding their home and furniture of the caustic smell and making it livable again?

1 Lawyer Answer
Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley
  • Rockville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: I assume you meant St. Charles, Maryland, and not Missouri. First, try calling the county department of the environment or health department to report the toxic spill and contamination affecting neighboring properties and health.

Second, call your homeowner's insurance company and file a claim -- being forced out of your home due to an event like this should be a covered claim. Your insurance company should pay for your hotel and food out; cleanup, disposal and replacement of contaminated items of personal property and clothing affected by the oil; removal of the oil and repair or replacement of walls, carpets, etc. They will then pursue a subrogation claim against your neighbor and his homeowner's insurance company to reimburse what they pay you. This way, your insurance company pays all the legal fees and costs of litigation, and and deals with the aggravation of suing with your irresponsible neighbor. Yes, your neighbor is liable, along with his contractor who caused the spill. Both have insurance to cover their liability (the neighbor has homeowner's insurance, the contractor general liability insurance). If you sue directly then you pay for all the legal fees and costs and have to wait a year or more to get to trial, plus pay to put on expert testimony as to the nature, cause and costs of the damages, and then assuming you are successful, try to collect your judgment. This is why you have homeowner's insurance.

Because this involves a residential heating oil spill, you may also want to review reporting option on the following link, which takes you to a Maryland state page regarding clean-up of residential oil spills and a state-wide program involving regulations applicable to the subject:

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