lawsuit

Tue, 2014-04-22 15:27Brendan DeMelle
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Breaking: $3 Million Jury Verdict in Texas Fracking Nuisance Case

A jury in Dallas, TX today awarded $2.925 million to plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr, who sued Barnett shale fracking company Aruba Petroleum Inc. for intentionally causing a nuisance on the Parr's property which impacted their health and ruined their drinking water.

The jury returned its 5-1 verdict confirming that Aruba Petroleum “intentionally created a private nuisance” though its drilling, fracking and production activities at 21 gas wells near the Parrs' Wise County home over a three-year period between 2008-2011.

Plaintiffs attorneys claimed the case is “the first fracking verdict in U.S. history.” 

The trial lasted two and a half weeks. Aruba Petroleum plans to appeal the verdict.

The pollution from natural gas production near the Parrs' Wise County home was so bad that they were forced to flee their 40-acre property for months at a time.  

Tue, 2014-04-15 13:25Farron Cousins
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Industry Funded Politicians Hope To Thwart Pollution Penalties In North Carolina

On March 6th of this year, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway handed down a ruling that Duke Energy must immediately prevent toxins from their coal ash ponds from leaking into the water supply, and also that the energy giant had to develop a plan to clean up all of the groundwater that they had contaminated in the state.  Ridgeway said that the state and the energy company had been misinterpreting a state law for decades in order to avoid cleaning up their toxic mess.

Judge Ridgeway’s ruling gave the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC) the authority to hold Duke accountable for years of pollution.  And just when it looked like Duke Energy might finally have to pay for their environmental crimes, something magical happened for the dirty energy company:  The EMC appealed Ridgeway’s ruling.

Rather than doing the job they were ordered to do by a judge, the state agency sided with Duke Energy in appealing the ruling, claiming that the state’s environmental laws do not give the agency the authority to order a cleanup of contaminated water supplies.

The EMC isn’t reacting this way because they are too busy, or because they don’t have the resources to enforce the cleanup – they joined the appeal because Duke Energy owns the state government in North Carolina.

The EMC claims to operate independently from the influence of state government, but they are directly appointed by the government.  The board consists of 15 members appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory (8 appointments to the board), Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger (7 collective appointments to the board.)  The common thread among these politicians is that their campaigns were all funded by Duke Energy and a host of other dirty energy heavyweights.

Wed, 2014-03-19 12:41Farron Cousins
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Coal Exporter United Bulk Sued For Polluting Mississippi River

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit earlier this week against United Bulk, alleging that the company is responsible for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting the Mississippi River.  United Bulk operates coal export terminals along the Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.

The suit alleges — along with plenty of photographic evidence to back up the allegations — that United Bulk has left piles of coal debris and petroleum coke (petcoke) along the banks of the river for the last five years.  These piles are left unattended, unsecured, and uncovered in the elements, allowing wind and rain to easily sweep these pollutants into the Mississippi River and nearby marshes. 

A press release from the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition lays out the basics:

The suit contends that United Bulk has illegally discharged coal and petcoke into the river every day that it has operated for at least five years. It points out that coal and petcoke—an oil-refining byproduct with high levels of arsenic, mercury and other toxins hazardous to human health and aquatic life—have been discharged into the river in enough quantities to produce visible spills on a regular basis. The suit also cites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that stormwater runoff from coal piles “can flush heavy metals from the coal, such as arsenic and lead, into nearby bodies of water.”

As mentioned above, the Gulf Restoration Project and the Sierra Club have released photographs of United Bulk’s contamination of the Mississippi River:

 photo UnitedBulk2.jpg

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:30Mike G
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Chevron RICO Verdict Sets Dangerous Precedent For Activists

Last week, Chevron's RICO suit against the lawyers representing 30,000 Ecuadoreans impacted by the company's oil pollution in the Amazon came to its inevitable conclusion when the judge presiding over the case, Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, ruled in Chevron's favor.

Yes, that's RICO as in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the law written so that mob bosses could be prosecuted for running their criminal empires.

Faced with a $9.5 billion judgement in Ecuador's courts, Chevron came back to the US and counter-sued under RICO statutes, essentially saying the organized opposition to its attempts to evade responsibility in Ecuador amounted to a criminal conspiracy.

Let that sink in for a minute: The lawyers who were trying to help 30,000 Indigenous villagers, farmers, and other poor, rural Ecuadoreans demand accountability from a multinational corporation with a $221.3 billion market cap were charged with corruption by that very same multinational corporation, and a US judge went along with it.

What this means is that the Ecuadoreans are barred from seeking Chevron assets in the US to force the company to pay the $9.5 billion. Chevron has refused to comply with the Ecuador court's ruling, even though Chevron itself argued that Ecuador was the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit over its 18 billion gallons of oil pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Since the Ecuadoreans had no plans of pursuing Chevron on its own turf, this ruling doesn't have much practical impact on the matter.

What Kaplan's ruling does do, however, is set a terrifying precedent for any company looking to evade responsibility for the consequences of its business operations.

Fri, 2014-02-14 11:00Farron Cousins
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Oil Industry Profited Off Polluting Oil Spills, Fraud Investigation Underway

When an oil company’s negligence leads to an oil spill, the financial costs incurred by the company can be crippling.  They have to pay clean up costs, federal fines, and, in many cases, settlements to victims who have been affected by the spill.  Since these costs can be such a burden to the multi-billion dollar industry, they’ve figured out a way to recoup some of their losses by deceiving all the players involved.

Of course, these aren’t the massive oil spills that we’ve seen from Exxon and BP; these are the smaller ones that most people don’t hear about that typically occur when storage containers leak.  That’s where the industry has learned that oil spills can actually be good for their bottom line.

The scheme is known as “double dipping,” and it involves oil companies receiving both insurance funds for spill cleanup along with state funds to clean up oil leaks from underground tankers.  This allows the company to use funds for cleanup, and usually have a little left over to put in their pockets.

A new report by Reuters succinctly captures the essence of what’s happening in a single quote:  “When I first saw these cases, I thought this is kind of incredible,” said New Mexico assistant attorney general Seth Cohen, who handled the lawsuit for the state. “The oil companies have, in effect, profited off polluting.”

Fri, 2013-12-20 05:00Farron Cousins
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BP Attempts To Misdirect Public With Claims Of Fraud

Oil giant BP is again attempting to convince the public that the oil spill settlement process for their destruction of the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and leak, is completely riddled with fraud.

The company filed a fraud lawsuit earlier this week to stop payments on the claim process while investigators look into the fraud allegations. According to BP, one of the law firms representing oil spill victims has been submitting and receiving payment for claimants who don’t actually exist. 

The specific payments that BP is hoping to stop come from the Seafood Compensation Fund, a fund that was set up to pay fishermen and others who rely on the seafood industry as their source of income. The company says that Louisiana attorney Mikal Watts has filed 648 claims on behalf of seafood industry workers, and that 8 of those have been verified as accurate with 17 more still pending approval. 

Watts’ attorney has fired back at BP, saying that Watts did nothing illegal during the spill process, and submitted the appropriate documentation for every spill claim that he has filed. BP insists that at least half of Watts’ clients don’t exist.

Tue, 2013-10-15 11:00Farron Cousins
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Justice Delayed For Mayflower Oil Spill Victims

As the government shutdown enters its third week, new and disturbing side effects are beginning to surface.  These adverse affects are arising from the U.S. court system, where federal prosecutors are unable to perform their day-to-day activities in many cases due to a lack of federal funding.

While this is bad news for American citizens, it is great news to oil giant ExxonMobil.  The federal prosecutors handling the case against Exxon for their Pegasus pipeline tar sands spill have been forced to request that the judge overseeing the lawsuits against Exxon delay the suit until government operations resume.

The U.S. attorneys and environmental investigators from the Justice Department and EPA are unable to work on the case due to the lack of funding.  According to the Associated Press, these workers are not even able to work on the case on their own time without pay, since it is a federal, not civil, suit.

In addition to the federal lawsuit, Exxon is currently facing at least $1.7 million in federal fines for the tar sands spill.  But again, as long as the government remains partially shut down, there is not enough staff to go around, and those fines will remain unpaid.  It is estimated that at least 94% of the entire EPA staff is currently furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.

This news is particularly disturbing for the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas, as they had worked very hard to get the lawsuit fast-tracked in the wake of the spill earlier this year.  The longer the shutdown lasts, the longer it will take for justice to be served against Exxon.  It also means that residents will go even longer without relief from the dangers affects of the diluted bitumen.

Tue, 2013-09-24 06:00Farron Cousins
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An Orchestrated Cover Up Of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline Spill Health Hazards?

Nearly six months have passed since ExxonMobil’s Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured and released as much as 7,000 barrels of diluted bitumen into Mayflower, Arkansas.  And as soon as the company realized that they had a problem, the cover up began.

From the outset, there has been a clear effort on behalf of Exxon to mislead and deceive the public about the effects that the tar sands spill will have on both the environment and public health.  As a result, the population in Mayflower is suffering at an unprecedented rate from mystery illnesses that can be linked back to exposure to tar sands crude.

Just like BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher, Exxon attempted to deceive the public about how much oil had actually been spilled.  The company claimed that the amount was somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 barrels.  But a report by Inside Climate News, based on numbers from the U.S. EPA, said that the actual number was closer to 7,000 barrels.  However, the EPA refused to correct Exxon’s numbers and did not include the agency’s own estimates in their press releases, instead choosing to parrot the bogus numbers asserted by Exxon.

That was just the beginning of Exxon’s plan to mislead both the public and the federal government.  The major problem the company knew it would face would be the health impacts on residents, so Exxon has done everything in its power to prevent the truth from leaking out.  (Those kinds of leaks are easier to prevent.)

Mon, 2013-08-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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BP Launches Massive PR Campaign To Demonize Oil Spill Victims

BP, the oil giant that, along with Halliburton and Transocean, was responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, is crying foul in the claims process of settlements for the victims of the spill.  The company has launched a massive public relations offensive to paint themselves as the victims in this situation.

According to The Hill, BP CEO Bob Dudley said recently that the entire claims process has been “absurd,” and that his company has been more than generous with their payments.  BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell said:  “While we remain committed to paying legitimate claims, we did not agree to pay for fictitious losses, or for claims that are based on fraud or tainted by corruption.”

While the overall PR war may appear to be aimed at the victims along the Gulf Coast, the real targets of BP’s campaign are trial lawyers.  They have even enlisted the help of the largest business lobby and strongest advocates for “tort reform”, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Hill reports that a recent ad placed by BP in The Washington Post quoted National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, saying, “Too often these days, the tort system is nothing more than a trial-lawyer bonanza, and that’s not fair to individuals seeking redress and no way to encourage investment in manufacturing to create tomorrow’s high-paying jobs.”

The reason that the company is trying to paint the claims process as plagued with fraud is that they had underestimated the amount of claims that they would have to pay out, and their settlement fund is quickly running dry.  This means that subsequent payments will have to come directly out of the company’s profits, a move that is not sitting well with shareholders who were promised that the price tag would not exceed $8 billion

Mon, 2013-08-12 12:18Farron Cousins
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Could Lead Paint Lawsuit Pave Way For Class Action Against Coal Industry?

Coal industry executives ought to pay attention to the lead paint lawsuit currently happening in the California court system.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the makers of lead paint, alleging that the industry knew about the toxicity of their product and yet still promoted it as “safe” to the public.  The industry has faced many lawsuits over their products in the past, most of which were unsuccessful for the victims, due to the fact that the industry was often up front about the dangers of their products, and they funded public studies to determine the health effects.

But things have changed in the American legal system, and attorneys are now taking a page out of the tobacco litigation playbook.  By unearthing documents that detail the lead paint industry’s attempted cover-up of the dangers, they avoid the “buyer beware” caveat that the tobacco industry used for so long. 

And just like the tobacco industry, lead paint manufacturers were specifically targeting children with their ads.  The California lawsuit is making that a central part of the trial.  Also reminiscent of the tobacco litigation, the suit was filed by cities and municipalities, not individual victims, greatly increasing the chance for success.

The coal industry should be paying very close attention to the progress of this litigation, as their activities could become the next target of skilled attorneys.  For decades, the coal industry has been poisoning American citizens with their coal-mining, -burning and -dumping activities.  Additionally, the dismal working conditions for miners has cost many families an unnecessary loss of life.

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