Environmental Law


Team Skills & Experience Brief

  • More than 30 years of experience in representing clients in environmental pollution matters.
  • The firm was selected for inclusion in the 2013 edition of Chambers USA, Leading Lawyers for Business as a Leading Law Firm in Litigation: General Commercial.
  • The team served as lead counsel for a major railroad company after a train derailment and toxic chlorine release resulted in more than 9 deaths and over 1000 claims in South Carolina.
  • The team served as lead South Carolina counsel for a chemical manufacturer in connection with the first case to be multi-districted in the state.

Environmental Team

GWB has represented corporations, manufacturers, and insurance carriers in environmental pollution and cost recovery cases for more than 30 years. Environmental Team members are complex litigation attorneys who understand the issues related to environmental matters.  The team’s extensive experience in environmental matters and familiarity with state and federal environmental laws and regulations allow team attorneys to work with clients to prepare effective defense strategies.  Environmental issues often undertaken by the team include:

  • Surface and Groundwater Contamination Disputes
  • Water Rights Disputes
  • Adjacent Land Owner Disputes
  • Federal and State Environmental Enforcement Actions
  • Citizen suits under RCRA, CERCLA and the Clean Air Act
  • Contaminated Property Claims
  • Environmentally-Related Product Liability Cases
  • Federal Clean Air Act
  • Federal Clean Water Act
  • Natural Resource Damages (NRD) Claims
  • Nuisance Claims
  • South Carolina Pollution Control Act
  • South Carolina Safe Drinking Water Act
  • State Permitting
  • Underground Storage Tanks

Industries & Clients Served

Environmental Team members have experience within a large cross-section of different industries.  Some of these industries include:

  • Automotive
  • Building Products
  • Manufacturers
  • Commercial Transportation
  • Construction
  • Industrial Machinery and Equipment
  • Insurance Carriers

The team’s clients are located in the Carolinas as well as throughout the United States.  These clients include individuals, well-known publicly traded companies, and privately held entities.  Clients GWB has represented in the past include:

  • Auto Owners
  • Cone Mills
  • CSX Transportation
  • Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance
  • Guardian Building Products
  • International Paper
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Norfolk Southern Railway Company
  • Southwire Company
  • Zurich

Representative Matters

The Environmental Team has represented clients in a myriad of matters related to environmental issues.  A sample of these matters includes:

  • In 2012, GWB became involved with a case where a South Carolina water utility company alleged ground water contamination against local products manufacturers and the farming community.
  • 248 residents of a local village in South Carolina sued two corporations for injuries and damages caused by exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCB’s”) alleging its discharge by a facility owned by the two corporations.
  • A finishing company discovered extensive deposits of hexavalent chromium in the soils and ground water under its plant that was sold to them by another corporation.
  • A wire, cable, and cord manufacturer leased a parcel of land in Puerto Rico to a printing company in the 1980s.  In 2003, after the printing company had vacated the premises, representatives of wire manufacturer discovered extensive hazardous waste and hazardous substances buried on its property in Puerto Rico.

Avondale Mills:

One of the most significant cases undertaken by GWB was Avondale Mills. The case arose from the derailment of a train in Graniteville, South Carolina.  Avondale Mills alleged that chlorine released as a result of the derailment caused property damage to its textile plant in Graniteville.  Avondale further claimed that the property damage it sustained ultimately led it to terminate its operations at all of its facilities and locations and sought over $450,000,000 in actual damages for remediation costs, business interruption, and lost business value.  Avondale also sought punitive damages, making the total damages sought approximately One Billion Dollars.

Trial of the case began on March 10, 2008 in Federal Court in Columbia, South Carolina.  GWB attorneys not only handled significant aspects of the trial, but also played vital roles in the case preparation and work-up.  This included multiple Daubert motions regarding expert testimony sought to be offered by Plaintiffs, as well as numerous summary judgment and discovery-related motions.

The parties estimated the case would take approximately 3 or 4 months to try.  Had the case gone to verdict, it would have been one of the longest trials ever conducted in South Carolina state or federal court.  However, following nearly one month of trial, during which numerous lay witnesses and experts testified, the case settled on April 4, 2008.


In 2005, attorneys at GWB served as lead counsel in the emergency response and post-accident investigation and claims handling of the Graniteville train derailment. Team members were on-site within hours of the derailment and chlorine release, and were involved in advising the client and directing aspects of the emergency response.  In Graniteville more than 5400 people evacuated, over 250 hospitalized and 9 dead due to the derailment.  GWB served as defense class counsel in two personal injury class action settlements arising from the train derailment and subsequent release of chlorine. The class settlements addressed evacuation claims, property damage, business interruption, minor personal injury and serious personal and psychological injury claims.


In 2012, the Railroad Team was called upon to provide onsite emergency assistance in response to a major derailment and environmental spill in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

Evacuation of approximately 6,000, release of vinyl chloride due to train derailment, more than 70 people hospitalized.  GWB assisted by being the point of contact for the responding governmental agencies for the railroad (NTSB, FRA, NJDEP, etc.) and by manning the assistance center providing legal counsel and advise to the railroad in managing the response.

Team Members

Key Contacts

John T. Lay, Jr.

Columbia, SC