The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled in May 1996 in the case of Carvalho v Toll Brothers that “an engineer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of workers on a construction site when the engineer has a contractual responsibility for the progress of the work, but not for safety conditions, yet is aware of working conditions on the construction site that create a risk of serious injury to workers.” So even the engineer was not hired to monitor safety conditions, the court ruled that he had a duty to report known unsafe condition.
One can easily extrapolate this State Supreme Court ruling to include imminent environmental harm.
On the flip side, we have a very recent case in 2011 where the Superior Court of PA ruled that “an engineering firm retained by its client to monitor toxic emissions from a beryllium plant, had no duty to report findings that beryllium particulate emissions belching from the plant “significantly exceeded” EPA limits to either the EPA or to members of the public.” This ruling flies in the face of the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling. The Superior Court in PA is often the last arbiter of legal dispute since the Supreme Court in PA rarely rules on the lower court’s rulings.
The question to ask in the PA case is: Was it imminent harm that the EPA limits were significantly exceeded? Beryllium is a pretty toxic chemical. And who were the receptors?