Environmental Litigation

Sacramento River Southern Pacific 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