Five million makes for a steep bill. That’s the estimate for cleaning up a certain plot of contaminated B.C. land. When you didn’t contaminate the land in the first place, that bill isn’t just steep. It’s downright wrong.
This is the situation a client of Vancouver-based Harper Grey LLP found itself in. Fortunately, Harper Grey’s staff performed due diligence and successfully extricated its client from this unfair liability. They did so using market-leading land registry search expertise from Dye & Durham.
Harper Grey’s client once owned land recently found to be contaminated. The current owner contacted this former owner for compensation of cleanup costs. The former owner expressed dismay over the contamination, but was also certain it did not contaminate the land. That’s when the former owner retained Harper Grey to plead his case. Harper Grey staff started a property search using available public records. As they did so, they realized historical land title records would be difficult to work through in this case. “We had a large amount of Crown land that was deeded to a company in about 1920,” says Harper Grey paralegal Monique Sever. “We couldn’t find that company online.” Monique contacted Dye & Durham for an initial historical search of the property via etray, Dye & Durham’s search and registry web application.
Several factors complicated the historical search:
• By 2016, what was an intact lot in the land registry in 1920 had been sold off in pieces by a series of owners.
• The land registry did not contain digital records dating back far enough in time to cover this matter. Certain documents were in microfiche and required manual research at the Land Title Office.
• The land registry naming system defies easy answers.
“In B.C., property is assigned a particular number in the land titles office,” Sever explains. “When the property transfers, the title transfer number becomes another number. It also tracks what it was previously. For instance, if it was Title 86 and becomes Title 200, it will add ‘previously 86’. Ensuring you look at the right piece of property is rather complicated.” Monique then placed a follow-up etray work order to further the historical research.
The second work order placed through Dye & Durham’s etray portal elicited further sophistication from the professionals behind the portal. Dye & Durham experts accelerated their efforts when Monique informed them of an upcoming mediation on the matter. The Dye & Durham experts kept Harper Grey’s paralegal informed via frequent updates. “They sent me information as quickly as possible,” says Monique. “It came in pieces, along with reports on pieces coming up. I could start my historical line and see it as it went along. I could show where the connections were.”
Clients often submit time-sensitive work orders. Alan Brown, Vice President of Sales, Western Canada, Dye & Durham, knows what’s behind those orders. “If clients send an email and get no response, or they call somebody and get voice mail, that’s a stressful situation for our clients,” he says. That’s why the platform contains effective collaboration tools. “Clients can follow progress on the work order through their etray file,” Brown explains. “They can follow the bouncing ball. That alleviates any stress.” Monique explains, “With their ability, we could trace the property back to the original owners, dating back to 1920, and all owners since then, and what sections of that property were owned by whom and at what period.”
Monique continues. “Dye & Durham was available for calls and emails to help me understand what I was looking at. They even gave me a ‘map’ to trace the titles. That was a huge help in creating the chronology.”
Vice President of Sales
Dye & Durham
Harper Grey’s client breathed a $5 million sigh of relief. “Once all titles, lots and sections were accurately traced and reviewed, we were able to determine that our client did not in fact own the section of the property that has the contamination. We extracted our client from a potential $5 million settlement for the contaminated land.”
The current owner also assigned land decontamination costs to the right party.
“I don’t think we would have been able to have this outcome had we not been able to use Dye & Durham to do this research,” says Monique. “Of course, the lawyers involved did some nifty lawyering. They were also shrewd enough to allow me to work with Dye & Durham on the project, which enabled them to shine.”
Harper Grey LLP
Harper Grey LLP is one of western Canada’s leading law firms for over a century. Based in Vancouver, Harper Grey has been a part of Vancouver’s legal landscape for 110 years. Harper Grey’s core strengths are business law, corporate/commercial law, insurance law, administrative law, medical defense and health law.Learn More