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T & E Industries v. Safety Light Corp.

Supreme Court of New Jersey
123 N.J. 371 (1991)


Facts

T & E Industries (plaintiff) purchased a property in New Jersey that had been owned many years earlier by the United States Radium Corporation (USRC). USRC processed radium and disposed of radium byproducts onsite. The radium byproducts eventually decayed into radon, which can cause bone cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia. The U.S. government did not begin to regulate the disposal of radium byproducts until 1978. In 1979, a state inspector tested the property then owned by T & E. The tests showed that the property was contaminated with radon. T & E moved its operations elsewhere, but could not sell the property until it had cleaned up the property. In 1981, T & E sued the successors of USRC, including Safety Light Corporation (defendant). T & E alleged, among other things, that Safety Light was strictly liable for any injuries resulting from conducting the abnormally dangerous activity of extracting radium. Safety Light moved to dismiss the suit. The trial court granted Safety Light’s motion, holding that a defendant can only be held strictly liable for engaging in an abnormally dangerous activity if the defendant knew at the time of its actions that its activity was in fact abnormally dangerous. T & E appealed, and the court of appeals reversed. The court reasoned that successors in title could sue a prior owner for strict liability so long they did not knowingly accept the burdens associated with the property. Safety Light petitioned for certification, and the supreme court granted the petition.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Clifford, J.)

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