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Washington D.C. Water Utility Sheds Negligence, Consumer Protection Claims in Lead-in-Water Litigation

In a decision that may have implications in other cases related to alleged lead in drinking water, a District of Columbia trial court dismissed negligence and consumer protection claims against the District’s water utility, DC Water.  See Barkley v. D.C. Water & Sewer Auth., 2016 WL 184433 (D.C. Super. Ct. Jan. 13, 2016).  Plaintiffs claimed injuries stemming from their alleged exposure to lead in drinking water in the early 2000s.  DC Water successfully argued that the public duty doctrine – which bars negligence claims against government entities regarding services provided to the public at large – bars claims regarding drinking water distribution and related public education. 

Under the District’s public duty doctrine, the District and its agencies “owe no duty to provide public services to particular citizens as individuals.”  Id. at *3.  “Stated another way, absent a special relationship between the District and an individual citizen creating a specific duty of care owed to that individual, the duty to all is a duty to no one.”  Id.  In granting summary judgment to DC Water on Plaintiffs’ negligence claims, the Court found that DC Water, created by the District’s legislative body, is part of the District government and is therefore entitled to the protection of the public duty doctrine.  The Court noted that the public duty doctrine protects government funds from the drain of litigation costs and safeguards the separation of powers. 

The Court also found that DC Water is not a “merchant” for purposes of the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (“CPPA”).  The Court wrote that “[DC Water] exists for a distinctly public purpose and that the fees [DC Water] charges are to maintain its solvency and to enable it to fulfill its statutory public purposes, not to turn a profit,” thus shielding DC Water from suit under the version of the CPPA in effect in the early 2000s.  The Court also rejected Plaintiffs’ claims for personal injury damages under the CPPA, finding that remedies under the CPPA were limited to the limited relief prescribed by the statute.

© 2020 Beveridge & Diamond PC National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 146

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About this Author

Graham C. Zorn Environmental, Toxic Tort, Products Liability Litigation Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Washington, DC
Principal

Graham Zorn focuses his practice on environmental, toxic tort, and products liability litigation.

His representative experience includes extensive work on a series of complex products liability and toxic tort cases related to alleged groundwater, and litigation over lead in drinking water. He has represented individual businesses, trade associations, and municipalities in litigation, as well as in compliance, enforcement, and counseling matters involving the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, CERCLA and other state and federal environmental statutes. He also counsels domestic and...

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Daniel M. Krainin Environmental Litigation Attorney Beveridge & Diamond New York, NY
Principal

Dan deploys more than two decades of environmental litigation experience to resolve clients’ legal and business challenges.

Primarily focused on environmental and toxic tort litigation, Dan helps clients successfully resolve groundwater contamination, hazardous waste site remediation, natural resource damages, permit defense and product-related matters. He enjoys using his skills as a litigator to help clients solve environmental problems.

Among his many wins, Dan successfully led a team that defeated an emergency challenge to a permit that Dan’s client needed to continue its operations. The favorable result that Dan and his team achieved allowed the client to avoid losing millions of dollars’ worth of production.

In a toxic tort case involving an alleged international conspiracy, Dan led a successful briefing effort that resulted in early dismissal of all claims against his clients, saving them from protracted litigation and protecting their reputation.

While focusing his practice on litigation, Dan also provides practical and actionable advice designed to minimize environmental risk and potential liabilities. 

An active member of various bar associations, Dan is a past chair of the American Bar Association’s Environmental Litigation and Toxic Torts Committee, and currently co-chairs the New York State Bar Association Environment Section’s Toxic Torts Committee. Dan has also served as a member of the firm’s Management Committee.

Before joining Beveridge & Diamond, Dan clerked for The Honorable Carlos R. Moreno, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California. Prior to attending law school, Dan served as editor-in-chief of the environmental news service Greenwire.

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Eric L. Klein Environmental Litigation Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Boston, MA
Principal

Eric makes complex subjects simpler.

He is an environmental litigator in the Boston office of Beveridge & Diamond, with a national practice representing major companies and municipalities in a wide variety of matters including environmental and mass torts, class actions, and federal citizen suits under environmental statutes including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. He has handled cases in state and federal courts throughout the United States, litigating complex civil and commercial matters before juries, trial and appellate courts,...

617-419-2316