The Effect of Joint and Several Liability Under Superfund on Brownfields
45 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2006 Last revised: 20 May 2021
Date Written: October 2005
In response to claims that the threat of environmental liability under the Superfund law deters the acquisition of potentially contaminated sites (or "brownfields") for redevelopment, the federal government has adopted programs to protect purchasers from liability. This protection may be unwarranted, however, if sellers can simply adjust property prices downward to compensate buyers for this liability. We present a model of joint and several liability under Superfund that allows us to distinguish four different reasons that this liability may discourage the purchase of brownfields. The previous literature has overlooked the effects that we identify, which all arise because a sale may increase the number of defendants in a suit to recover cleanup costs. Our analysis suggests that the brownfields problem may be more widespread than one might infer from the prior literature. Furthermore, the effects that we identify may distort not only the incentives to sell property subject to Superfund liability but also any decision of any party subject to any joint and several liability if that decision could affect the number of other defendants liable for the same harm.
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