SPC Interpretation on Environmental Tort Dispute Cases

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The "Supreme People's Court Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning the Applicable Law in Trial of Cases of Environmental Tort Disputes" was adopted at the 1644th meeting of the adjudication committee of the Supreme People's Court on February 9, 2015.

Supreme People's Court

June 1, 2015

The Supreme People's Court Interpretation on Several Issues Concerning the Applicable Law in Trial of Cases of Environmental Tort Disputes

(Passed by the 1644th Meeting of the Judicial Committee of the Supreme People's Court on February 9, 2015)

Legal Interpretation (2015) No. 12

The following Interpretation is drafted for the correct hearing of environmental tort dispute cases, on the basis of the the P.R.C. Tort Liability Law and the P.R.C. Environmental Protection Law, The P.R.C. Civil Procedure Law, and other relevant laws and regulations combined with trial experience.

Article 1: Regardless of whether they have have fault, polluters shall bear tort liability for harms caused by environmental pollution. Where polluters assert that they do not bear liability because discharge was compliant with national or local pollutant discharge standards, the people's court will not support it.

In situations where polluters do not bear responsibility or have reduced responsibility, apply the provisions of the Marine Environmental Protection Law, the Water Pollution Prevention Law, the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Law and other separate environmental protection laws; and where the separate envrionmental protection laws have no provisions, apply provisions of the Tort Liability Law.

Article 2: Where harm is caused by two or more polluters jointly polluting, and the persons infringed upon request the polluters bear joint liability in accordance with article 8 of the Tort Liability Law, the people's courts will support it.

Article 3: Where a single harm is caused by the distinct polluting conduct of two or more polluters, and the polluting conduct of each polluter is sufficient to have caused the entire harm, and the persons infringed upon demand that the polluters bear joint responsibility in accordance with article 11 of the Tort Liability Law, the people's courts will support it.

Where a single harm is caused by the distinct polluting conduct of two or more polluters, and the polluting conduct of individual polluters are all insufficient to have caused the entire harm, and the persons infringed upon demand that the polluters bear responsibility in accordance with article 12 of the Tort Liability Law, the people's courts will support it.

Where a single harm is caused by the distinct polluting conduct of two or more polluters, and the polluting conduct of some polluters is sufficient to have caused the entire harm, but the polluting conduct of some polluters in only caused some of the harm; and the persons infringed upon demand, in accordance with article 11 of the Tort Liability Law, that the polluters who may have caused the entire harm bear joint responsibility with other polluters for the jointly caused portion of the harm, and responsibility for the entire harm, the people's courts will support it.

Article 4: Where two or more polluters pollute the environment, the people's courts shall determine the magnitude of responsibility of polluters on the basis of factors such as the type of pollutants, the volume of discharge, the harmfulness, as well as whether they had a discharge permit, whether they exceeded pollutant discharge standards, and whether they exceeded pollutant cap controls.

Article 5: Where those infringed upon follow article 68 of the Tort Liability Law to separately or jointly raise a suit against polluters or third parties, the people's courts shall accept it.

Where those infringed upon demand third parties bear responsibility for compensation, the people's courts shall determine the third parties compensation responsibility on the basis of their degree of fault.

Where polluters assert that they do not bear responsibility or bear reduced responsibility because third parties' fault caused the harm, the people's court will not support it.

Article 6: Where those infringed upon demand compensation on the basis of article 65 of the Tort Liability Law, they shall provide evidentiary materials showing the following matters:

(1) the polluter discharged pollutants;

(2) the harm to the infringed persons;

(3) that there is a connection between the discharge of pollutants by the polluter, or derivative pollutants, and the harm.

Article 7: Where polluters present evidence showing any of the following circumstances, the people's courts shall verify that there is no causal connection between their polluting conduct and the harm:

(1) There is no possibility of the discharge pollutant causing the harm;

(2) Discharge of pollutants that could cause that harm did not reach the site of the harm;

(3) The harm had already occurred before the discharge of pollutants;

(4) Other situations where it can be verified that there is no causal connection between the polluting conduct and the harm.

Article 8: For clarification of specialized issues in the facts of environmental pollution cases, forensic evaluation organizations with relevant credentials may be retained to submit appraisal opinions, or organizations reccomended by the competent department of environmental protection under the State Council may submit examination reports, test reports, or monitoring data.

Article 9: Where parties apply to have 1 or 2 persons with specialized knowledge notified to appear in court to submit opinions on specialized issues such as the appraisal opinions, verification of pollutants, harmful consequences or causality, the people's courts may allow it.

Opinions submitted at court by persons with specialized knowledge may be used as a basis for determining case facts upon being debated by the parties.

Article 10: Environmental pollution incident investigation reports, inspection reports, testing reports, assessment reports, monitoring data, an so on, from departments that have environmental protection supervision and regulatory duties, or organizations they have retained.

Article 11: For outbreaks or polluting conduct that is sustained over a relatively short period of time, in circumstances where evidence might be destroyed or difficult to obtain later, where parties or stakeholders request to have evidence preserved in accordance with Civil Procedure Law article 81, the people's courts shall allow it.

Article 12: Where parties or stakeholders apply for preservation in accordance with articles 100 or 101 of the Civil Procedure Law, and the subject of the application has any of the circumstances provided for in article 63 of the Environmental Protection Law, the people's courts may rule to order the subject of the application to immediately cease the infringing conduct or adopt measures to prevent pollution.

Article 13: On the basis of the infringed persons' claims and the specific case circumstances, people's courts shall reasonably determine the civil responsibilities of polluters such as to stop the violation, clear obstructions, eliminate threats, restore original states, compensate losses and formally apologize.

Article 14: Where the person infringed upon demands restoration to original states, the people's courts may rule that the polluters bear responsibility for environmental restoration, and concurrently determine the environmental restoration costs that the defendants must pay if they do not perform the environmental restoration.

Where polluters have not performed their duty to restore the environment within the period designated in an effective judgment, the people's courts may retain others to carry out the environmental restoration, with the polluter bearing the costs.

Article 15: Where the persons infringed upon demands that polluters makes compensation for property and personal losses caused by the pollution as well as reasonable expenses for measures that needed to be adopted to prevent the pollution expanding or to eliminate the pollution, the people's courts shall support it.

Article 16: In any of the following circumstances, it shall be held to be falsification as provided for in article 65 of the Environmental Protection Law:

(1) Where an environmental impact assessment organization clearly knew that materials provided by the person retaining them were false, and issued an assessment document seriously contrary to the facts.

(2) Where an environmental monitoring organization or an organization engaged in maintaining or operating environmental assessment equipment, intentionally concealed that the person retaining them had exceeded pullutant discharge standards or exceeded total pollutant discharge cap standards;

(3) Where organizations enganged in in maintaining or operating environmental assessment equipment, intentionally did not run, or irregularly ran, environmental monitoring equipment or pollution prevention facilities.

(4) Other situations of falsification by relevant organizations in the course of environmental service activities.

Article 17: Where persons infringed upon bring suit to request the polluters cease infringement, remove obstacles, or eliminate dangers, they are not subject to the time limitations provided for in Article 66 of the Environmental Protection Law.

Article 18: This Interpretation applies to trials of civil cases over damages caused by environmental pollution or ecological destruction, except where Laws and judicial interpretations have other provisions for environmental civil public interest litigation cases.

This Interpretation does not apply to disputes adjoining pollution tort disputes or disputes of laborers sustaining injuries due to pollution during professional activities.

Article 19: After this Interpretation takes effect, first-instance or second-instance cases that have not been tried to completion in the people's courts, apply these provisions. Cases where an effective judgment as made before this Interpretation took effect, that are lawfully retried after this Interpretation takes effect, do not apply this interpretation.

After this interpretation takes effect, where judicial interpretations previously released by the Supreme People's Court do not accord with this interpretation, they are no longer applied.

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