Mediating Multi-party Environmental Disputes and Cost Allocation Issues

Environmental law cases may involve hundreds of parties, thousands of documents, and often take years to dissect and finalize. Attorneys who represent clients in environmental disputes must not only have an understanding of the laws that apply to these cases, but also of the scientific nature of the events leading to the dispute.

Determining liability and cost allocation after an environmental dispute has occurred are some of the most time-consuming and expensive parts of these cases, especially Superfund cases and those involving other government regulations. Experts must be consulted, studies of the affected area must be completed, and estimates to repair the damage must be calculated. Instead of waiting for these cases to wind through the courtroom, many attorneys are turning to mediation instead to resolve environmental disputes.

Many attorneys think of mediation as an all-or-nothing solution—either you settle the case or you don’t. However, this perception devalues mediation significantly. There may be multiple issues in an environmental dispute that need resolution, but may not rise to the level of requiring court involvement. Alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and arbitration, may be used to resolve these smaller disagreements so that the parties may move on to the remainder of the case.

Cost allocation after an environmental incident has occurred may take over a year to resolve in the court system. Environmental attorneys should consider using mediation so that those involved may create a cost allocation plan of their own. Although judges are very knowledgeable in environmental law, the scientific details of a case may still be confusing. Instead of turning these complicated cases over to a judge to determine cost allocation, the parties may meet with a mediator, environmental experts, and other witnesses to craft a cost allocation plan that is fair and approved by those involved.