Environmental Litigation

Porter Ranch Natural Gas Leak

natural gas field

Issue: Uncontrolled natural gas leak

Southern California Gas Leak Cases, JCCP No. 4861. Lieff Cabraser has been selected by the Los Angeles County Superior Court to help lead two important class action cases on behalf of homeowners and businesses that suffered economic injuries in the wake of the massive Porter Ranch gas leak, which began in October of 2015 and lasted into February of 2016. During this time, huge quantities of natural gas spewed out of an old well at Southern California Gas’s Aliso Canyon Facility and into the air of Porter Ranch, a neighborhood located adjacent to the Facility and 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

This large-scale environmental disaster forced thousands of residents to leave their homes for months on end, while the leak continued, and for several months thereafter. It also caused local business to dry up during the busy holiday season, as many residents had evacuated the neighborhood and visitors avoided the area. Evidence suggests the leak was caused by at least one old and malfunctioning well used to inject and retrieve gas. Southern California Gas Company allegedly removed the safety valve on the well that could have prevented the leak. As a result, the gas leak has left a carbon footprint larger than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Together with other firms chosen to pursue class relief for these victims, Lieff Cabraser has filed two class action complaints—one on behalf of Porter Ranch homeowners and another on behalf of Porter Ranch businesses. Southern California Gas has argued in response that the injuries suffered by homeowners and businesses cannot proceed as class actions, and separately, that businesses cannot recover their economic losses resulting from the leak. In May 2017, the Superior Court rejected all of these arguments. The class action cases are proceeding with discovery into Southern California Gas Company’s role in this disaster.

Contact National Environmental Safety and Toxic Injury Attorneys

If you or a family member have been injured, or you are concerned about likely economic losses in property values as a result of the months-long natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, we would welcome an opportunity to discuss your case.

Lieff Cabraser possesses the experience, expertise and financial resources to thoroughly investigate environmental cases and hold the defendants accountable. We have successfully prosecuted cases against many of the world’s most powerful corporations obtaining multiple billions of dollars in recoveries, including for families, businesses and property owners. Our notable environmental disaster and toxic exposure cases include the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil disaster, the Kingston, Tennessee TVA coal ash spill, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.


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Toms River Child Cancer Incidents

Result: Confidential settlement
Year: 2001

With co-counsel, Lieff Cabraser represented 69 families in Toms River, New Jersey, each with a child having cancer, that claimed the cancers were caused by environmental contamination in the Toms River area.

Commencing in 1998, the parties – the 69 families, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Union Carbide and United Water Resources, Inc., a water distributor in the area – participated in an unique alternative dispute resolution process, which led to a fair and efficient consideration of the factual and scientific issues in the matter.

In December 2001, under the supervision of a mediator, a confidential settlement favorable to the families was reached.

Martin County Kentucky Coal Ash Spill

toxic spill

Result: Settled claims for 400 property owners
Year: 2003

Environmental damage from the Martin County Coal Slurry Spill in Wolf Creek.

On October 11, 2000, a coal waste storage facility owned by Massey Energy ruptured, spilling 1.25 million tons of coal sludge (a wet mixture produced by the treatment and cleaning of coal) into rivers and waterways in Martin County, Kentucky, near the town of Inez. Hundreds of properties were contaminated, with some properties covered by five feet of coal sludge. This was one of the worst environmental disasters in the Southeastern United States.

Wolf Creek

With co-counsel, Lieff Cabraser represented over 400 clients in property damage claims, including claims for diminution in the value of their homes and properties. In April 2003, the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement on favorable terms to the plaintiffs.

Sacramento River Southern Pacific Toxic Spill

toxic spill

Result: $16 million settlement
Year: 1994

In re Sacramento River Spill Cases I and II

On July 14, 1991, a Southern Pacific train tanker car derailed in northern California, spilling 19,000 gallons of a toxic pesticide (metam sodium) into the Sacramento River near the town of Dunsmir at a site along the rail lines known as the Cantara Loop. The metam sodium mixed thoroughly with the river water and had a devastating effect on the river and surrounding ecosystem.

Sacramento River

Within a week, every fish (1.1 million in total) and all other aquatic life in a 45-mile stretch of the Sacramento River was killed. In addition, many residents living along the river became ill with symptoms that included headaches, shortness of breath, and vomiting. The spill considered the worst inland ecological disaster in California history.

Lieff Cabraser served as Court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel and Lead Class Counsel, and chaired the Plaintiffs’ Litigation Committee in coordinated proceedings that included all of the lawsuits arising out of this toxic spill. Settlement proceeds of approximately $16 million were distributed pursuant to Court approval of a plan of allocation to four certified plaintiff classes: personal injury, business loss, property damage/diminution, and evacuation.

Further Resources

Final Report on the Recovery of the Upper Sacramento River (PDF) (Cal. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)

Redding News report on 20th anniversary of the Cantara Loop spill

Louisiana Crawfish Farmers ICON Insecticide Damage

seafood sign

Result: $45 million settlement
Year: 2004

Crayfish

West v. G&H Seed Company, et al.

Lieff Cabraser represented a certified class of 1,500 Louisiana crawfish farmers who charged in a lawsuit charging that the pesticide Fipronil, an insecticide sold under the trade name ICON, damaged their pond-grown crawfish crops. In Louisiana, rice and crawfish are often farmed together, either in the same pond or in close proximity to one another.

After its introduction to the market in 1999, ICON was used extensively in Louisiana to kill water weevils that attacked rice plants. The lawsuit charged that ICON also had a devastating effect on crawfish harvests with some farmers losing their entire crawfish crop.

In 2004, the Court approved a $45 million settlement with Bayer CropScience, which during the litigation purchased Aventis CropScience, the original manufacturer of ICON. The settlement was reached after the parties had presented nearly a month’s worth of evidence at trial and were on the verge of making closing arguments to the jury.

Unocal Refinery Toxic Exposure

toxic spill

Result: $80 million settlement
Year: 1997

In re Unocal Refinery Litigation Toxic Release Case

Lieff Cabraser served as one of two Co-Lead Class Counsel and on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in this action against Union Oil Company of California (“Unocal”) arising from a series of toxic releases from Unocal’s San Francisco refinery in Rodeo, California.

The action was settled in 1997 on behalf of approximately 10,000 individuals for $80 million.

GCC Richmond Works Toxic Exposure

toxic spill

Result: $180 million settlement
Year: 1995

In re GCC Richmond Works Cases Environmental Spill

Lieff Cabraser served as Co-Liaison Counsel and Lead Class Counsel in coordinated litigation arising out of the July 26, 1993 release of a massive toxic sulfuric acid cloud which injured an estimated 50,000 residents of Richmond, California. The Coordination Trial Court granted final approval to a $180 million class settlement for exposed residents.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Class Action

A closeup view of the oil from a ship tanker oil spill in the sea getting into the sand on a beach

Result: $1.5 billion in awards and other payments
Year: 2006

Exxon Valdez

In re Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation

The Exxon Valdez ran aground in March of 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Lieff Cabraser served as one of the court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Class Counsel. The class consisted of 32,000 fishermen, Alaska natives, landowners, and others whose livelihoods were gravely affected by the disaster. In addition, Lieff served on the Class Trial Team in 1994. A class action jury trial was held in federal court in 1994. The jury returned an award of $5 billion in punitive damages.

In 2001, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the original $5 billion punitive damages verdict was excessive. In 2002, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russell Holland reinstated the award at $4 billion. Judge Holland stated that, "Exxon officials knew that carrying huge volumes of crude oil through Prince William Sound was a dangerous business, yet they knowingly permitted a relapsed alcoholic to direct the operation of the Exxon Valdez through Prince William Sound."

In 2003, the Ninth Circuit again directed Judge Holland to reconsider the punitive damages award under United States Supreme Court punitive damages guidelines. In January 2004, Judge Holland issued his order finding that Supreme Court authority did not change the Court’s earlier analysis.

In December 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling, setting the punitive damages award at $2.5 billion. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court further reduced the punitive damages award to $507.5 million, an amount equal to the compensatory damages. With interest, the total award to the plaintiff class was $1.515 billion.

TVA Coal Ash Spill

Coal ash spill

Result: $27.8 million settlement
Year: 2014

Widespread Destruction From Nation’s Largest Coal Ash Slurry Spill

Lieff Cabraser represented hundreds of property owners and businesses harmed by the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. The case is now in mediation proceedings.

On December 22, 2008, more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled when a dike burst on a retention pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Roane County, Tennessee. A wall of coal ash slurry traveled across the Emory River, polluting the river and nearby waterways and covering nearly 300 acres with toxic sludge, including 12 homes and damaging hundreds of properties.

Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal and is considered toxic. The ash ponds at the Kingston coal plant were separated from a nearby river only by earthen dikes, and not stored in lined landfills.

In August 2014, the case came to a conclusion with TVA’s payment of $27.8 million to settle the litigation.

Video footage of the coal ash disaster from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Testing of river water near the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders, as well as high levels of arsenic.

Kingston Coal Spill Case History

Leaks and seepage plagued the retention pond at the TVA coal plant for years. According to a February 2008 inspection report, the TVA reportedly knew about leaks at the Kingston facility for more than two decades and opted not to pay for long-term solutions to the problem.

In March 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Varlan denied in major part TVA’s motion to dismiss lawsuits arising out of the Kingston coal ash disaster in December 2008. TVA argued that it can not be held liable for the disaster because it is an arm of the federal government and immune from lawsuits. In denying TVA’s motions, the Court explained that "once a relevant policy decision has been made, the government is accountable for its negligence in the implementation of that decision."

In March 2011, the Court granted in part and denied in part TVA’s second motion for summary judgment and delineated the claims plaintiffs could proceed to trial on. Importantly, the Court denied TVA’s motion for summary judgment as it related to TVA’s liability for its failure to properly train its personnel; its negligence in implementing and enforcing its policies; its negligence in overseeing the construction of and maintaining the coal ash impoundment.

The trial of the case concluded in October 2011. In August 2012, Judge Varlan found in favor of plaintiffs on their claims of negligence, trespass, and private nuisance. TVA maintained that its conduct was discretionary conduct and that as the government, it could not be held accountable for its actions.

The Court ruled that the plaintiffs established at trial that "TVA’s conduct in regard to its mandatory policies, procedures, and practices for coal ash management compounded the location, design, and operation causes [for the dike failure] and had TVA followed its own mandatory policies, procedures and practices, the subsurface issues underlying the failure of the North Dike would have been investigated, addressed, and potentially remedied before the catastrophic failure of December 22, 2008."

BP Gulf Oil Spill

Oil Spill

In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico

Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel represent property owners, business owners, wage earners, and other harmed parties in class action litigation against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and other defendants for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. Elizabeth J. Cabraser serves on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) that is spearheading the litigation in federal court before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Attorney Annika K. Martin Discusses BP Oil Spill Settlement Claims

BP Lawsuit, BP Oil Spill Lawsuit, BP Spill Class Action

In 2014, the Deepwater Horizon Litigation continued to make progress in providing economic and medical relief to hundreds of thousands of individuals and businesses in the Gulf Coast area whose lives and livelihoods were impacted by the 2010 oil spill. The Supreme Court denied review of BP’s challenge to its own class action settlement. Approval of that settlement is now final, and as of the Fall of 2016 has delivered over $8.5 billion to compensate claimants’ losses. The medical settlement is also final, and an additional $1 billion settlement has been reached with defendant Halliburton.

Court Orders and Rulings

Operative Master Complaints

Underlying Complaints

You can also visit the official settlement website.