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Branch v. Western Petroleum Inc.
Utah Supreme Court
657 P.2d 267 (1982)
The Branches (defendants) purchased the property neighboring land owned by Western Petroleum, Inc. (Western) (plaintiff). Western used its land to dispose of formation waters, the waste waters from oil wells, by allowing the formation waters to percolate into the ground. When the Branches purchased their home, the water in their existing well was potable. However, two months later, it was contaminated by Western’s formation waters. The contaminated water caused the death of some of the Branches’ livestock. The formation waters also ran off on the Branches property at the surface level. The Branches dug another well, which initially tested as potable but was also subsequently contaminated. The Branches were forced to truck in potable water. Western refused the Branches’ request to cease dumping the formation waters unless the Branches agreed to cover the costs Western would incur by dumping elsewhere. Western dug a pond to attempt to contain the surface runoff, but it was only partially successful. The Branches sued for damages under strict liability, arguing that Western’s use of the land as a formation-water dumping site created an abnormally dangerous condition. Western countered, arguing negligence was the appropriate legal principle to apply, not strict liability. The jury awarded strict-liability damages to the Branches for the pollution of the wells. Western appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Stewart, J.)
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