ecology 004What happens when an amateur nature photographer captures photographic evidence of a biohazard near the water?  While the government response is likely to involve panoply of people – and experts in their field – what about the role of an environmental pollution expert witness on site for local residents and environmentalists?

Not every circumstance that could lead to a lawsuit will be clear from the beginning.  In the situation involving the discovery by the photographer, his finding lead to questions about the environmental impact that required an expert witness to study river animals over a period of time.  Ecosystem damages may appear abruptly obvious, then appear to abate, and then slowly reveal more damages.

Depending on what extent an environmental circumstance makes immediate and visible damages; a lawyer may be more or less interested in a potential case.  The guidance from the law firm to local residents and environmental groups can include a referral to and/or retention of an expert witness.  An early approach to evidence preservation and analysis could later prove invaluable.

The lawyer and expert witness team may also have the opportunity to track an agency investigation.  During the agency investigation process there may be an opportunity to submit materials generated by the expert witness that may contribute to the government findings against a potential tortfeasor.  The government employee, no matter how well meaning, may not have enough resources to conduct the adequate monitoring and laboratory work that can be performed by a retained expert witness.   A strong government finding of causation of negative environmental impact could assist not only in a court case, but also in procurement of government resources for abatement and remediation.

Similarly, on the back end of environmental disasters, there may be a need for attorneys and expert witnesses to continue to monitor the environmental impact and the remediation efforts.  Such activities may include not only disbursements of settlement funds administered by the government, but also the application of the funds to the specified projects.  The on-going expert witness role can be said to require an attorney advocate to elevate the voice of long-term environmental impact, breach of settlement terms, and need for additional government intervention.

For the circumstance brought to light by the photographer, the expert witness is going to be needed for at least one full year.  The environmental event happened near a waterway where an endangered species burrows in for the winter.  In the interim, it was reported that the photographer is keeping a daily vigil over the four-mile stretch of waterway.

By: Paloma A. Capanna,  Attorney at Law and Policy Analyst