Did your business used to use chlorine solvents? Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the government considered them safe as long as you used them in accordance with government regulations. As time passed, authorities discovered that the solvents leached into the ground water. In order to combat this problem, laws to prohibit their use passed.
You did everything right, and as the law and regulations regarding these solvents have changed, you adapted in order to continue to comply. Now that the regulations have changed, federal and state authorities tell you that you need to clean up the site of the contamination — even if it took place decades ago.
The law does not discriminate when it comes to assigning blame for contamination. You followed the rules but suffer the same consequences as the business that failed to do so. It also does not matter whether you owned the business for a year or 30 years. If you own the property, the government holds you responsible. Prior owners might bear some liability for the remediation and cleanup of the property as well.
Will my insurance cover the cost of the cleanup?
That depends on when you purchased your coverage. Prior to 1985, insurance policies covered accidents that caused contamination. After 1985, insurance policies contained exclusions for contamination, even accidental incidents. If you purchased a separate policy to cover environmental disasters, your insurance will more than likely cover the cleanup. However, you still have to go through the claims process, which could become problematic.
Insurance companies operate in order to make a profit. A claim involving a cleanup and remediation of property could cost your insurance company, along with the insurance companies of any prior owners if involved, could delay or outright deny your claim.
So what should I do?
Dealing with the federal government, the state of New Jersey and insurance companies could be overwhelming. Governmental agencies do not always apply the rules fairly. Negotiations between you and the government could alleviate some of the responsibility you face. However, going into those negotiations alone could make matters worse. In addition, the federal government and the state of New Jersey require insurance companies to follow certain rules. Unreasonably delaying your claim in order to avoid paying it violates those rules. In addition, a denial does not necessarily mean the end of the story.
Perhaps involving an attorney who regularly deals in environmental law and understands the insurance claims that go along with them would help your efforts.