Law360 has published an in-depth profile of Lieff Cabraser partner Robert J. Nelson, named an Environmental Law “MVP of the Year” for 2023 for his pivotal role in securing two major environmental disaster settlements against corporate energy giants: a $230 million settlement for those affected by the Plains All American oil spill in Santa Barbara, and a $40 million payout for victims of the California Porter Ranch gas leak.

In the Plains Oil Spill litigation, Robert represented property owners whose property was destroyed and fishers whose catch was substantially impacted by the 2015 spill that occurred when a 10-mile-long, 24-inch-wide Plains oil pipeline ruptured and discharged over 100,000 gallons of crude oil onto land and beaches along the Santa Barbara coastline.

Despite an unforeseen delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert and his team’s persistent efforts culminated in a trial achieving a $230 million settlement from Plains All American Pipeline LP, a settlement that was split between the property owner and fisher classes, with $46 million going to the property owners and $184 million going to the fishers.

Robert noted that reaching a deal did not come easily. “Although the two litigation classes were certified by the court fairly early in the case, the defendants continuously challenged the certifications, filing various motions to decertify the classes,” he said. “On the eve of trial, their objections were finally quashed with the court’s ruling on the case’s trial plan…[U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez] adopted our trial plan, thereby finally rejecting the defendants’ objections to class certification,” he continued.

“As you know, few class cases are tried, but through the trial plan that we had urged the court to adopt, we were able to demonstrate that the case could and should be tried as a class action. Once the trial plan issue was resolved on the very eve of trial, the case settled successfully.”

Read the full profile of Robert on Law360’s (subscription) website.

About Robert Nelson

Robert J. Nelson has played a leading role in Lieff Cabraser’s qui tam, automotive, aviation, mass tort, tobacco, and consumer fraud cases. He has served as court-appointed Lead or Co-Lead Counsel in numerous state and federal coordinated proceedings and over 35 class actions. Robert was lead trial counsel in a product defect case against Chrysler that resulted in a substantial punitive damage verdict, for which he was a recipient of California Lawyer Magazine’s Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award. He later received a second CLAY award for his work as lead trial counsel in obtaining a substantial settlement against the University of Phoenix, one of the largest ever achieved involving fraud against the Department of Education under the False Claims Act. Robert is a four-time nominee for CAOC Consumer Attorney of the Year.  In 2019, Robert was named Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year for his work on the State Farm insurance fraud RICO litigation.

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