Suit Filed Against Chevron After Fire

Thursday, Aug 16, 2012  |  Updated 6:48 AM PDT
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Suit Filed Against Chevron After Fire

Jodi Hernandez

The Chevron refinery fire sent thousands to the hospital seeking mostly respiratory assistance.

Three Bay Area attorneys filed a lawsuit against Chevron  Wednesday, claiming the oil company was "grossly negligent" in its handling  of maintenance leading up to the massive Aug. 6 fire at its Richmond refinery  that sent thousands of local residents to hospitals.

Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris teamed with San  Francisco-based lawyers Matthew Kumin and Patrick Goggin to file the lawsuit  Wednesday on behalf of nine Richmond residents, including three children, who  have allegedly suffered illnesses, emotional distress and other hardships due  to the fire.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Burris told reporters  and local residents that Chevron could have avoided the fire and thick smoke  that sent several thousand people to the hospital with respiratory illnesses,  headaches, nausea and other symptoms.

"This is a willful disregard, in many ways, of a dangerous  situation," he said.

The lawsuit alleges that Chevron could have avoided the explosion  and fire sparked by a leaky oil pipe if they had implemented "proper safety  measures and a timely response."

Burris said Chevron's "failure to act immediately with urgency  when the leak was initially discovered was unconscionable. Chevron's conduct  needlessly placed the health of thousands at risk."

The three attorneys said they hope the lawsuit will require  Chevron to beef up safety measures to prevent another accidental release of  pollutants.

Since the fire, about 8,800 local residents have filed liability  claims to reimburse medical fees and property damage through a process set up  by Chevron days after the blaze, according to Chevron spokeswoman Melissa  Ritchie. Some 7,500 people have filed claims via a phone hotline, while 1,300  have filed a claim in person at a help center set up by Chevron that opened  last week at the Nevin Community Center.

Chevron officials say they hope to reimburse the claims within a  month.

The attorneys who filed the suit against the oil giant Wednesday  cautioned residents who have filed such claims not to sign any waiver that  might prevent them from pursuing further legal action against Chevron.

Ritchie said again Wednesday that Chevron is not asking anyone  filing a claim to give up the right to a potential lawsuit.

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