As part of a larger package of earthquake preparedness measures, a new Oregon statute should be of interest to anyone who stores toxic substances. Oregon Senate Bill 775 provides:
Evidence of measures taken or vulnerability assessments conducted before a natural disaster occurs that were intended to minimize the impact of or plan for the natural disaster is not admissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with damage, harm, injury or death resulting from the natural disaster.
While not limited to the chemical industry, the bill is of particular interest to that industry. In an interview with Oregon public radio, the Chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Commission explained that the bill was intended to encourage companies that store fuel or toxic chemicals to conduct vulnerability assessments with the assurance that the studies would not be later used against them in court to prove their negligence.
According to Oregon public radio, geologists estimate that there is a 37 percent chance of a large earthquake (8.0 or greater) along the Cascadia Subduction Zone within the next 50 years. So, it may be time to consider an updated vulnerability assessment – with less worry that acting to promote safety could backfire later and be used to establish tort liability.