The issue of ground contamination is an extremely important one for homeowners. With the collapse of the housing market, many people have already found that their homes are worth far less than what they paid or still owe on them. If there has been any kind of chemical leak in the area, homeowners may find themselves with property that can’t sell at all, no matter how low they drop the price.
Such might be the case due to Shell Oil Company allegedly contaminating private property near its refinery in Roxana, IL. The lead plaintiff, Jeana Parko, filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and her neighbors, alleging that they suffered lower values on their property as a direct result of benzene leaking into the ground and other carcinogenic chemical releases caused by the refinery. The leaks were allegedly caused by broken pipelines in the refinery itself, resulting in more than 200,000 pounds of pure benzene being released directly into the ground. The lawsuit was originally filed in Madison County Court in April 2012, but has since been moved to federal court.
U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy has agreed to certify the class, although Shell argued that the owners of the estimated 387 plots of land at issue should be forced to litigate individually. Defendants often argue for individual litigation over class action lawsuits because the awards of individual litigation are likely to be much lower and the plaintiffs are less likely to sue on their own. The pressure of a certified class is also more likely to induce the defendant to settle the case outside of court.
Judge Murphy did not agree with Shell’s arguments for denying the class certification. In his decision, he wrote, “The question of whether hazardous petroleum byproduct pervades village property and of whether defendants are complicit in any resultant damage are best suited to class-wide resolution”. He also points out that to have each of the almost 400 plaintiffs file their own individual lawsuits would create a “redundant and unnecessary strain on the dockets of multiple justices” without doing anything to increase the “accuracy of the resolution”.
Derek Brandt is a shareholder of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides & Barnerd, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the case. Brandt argues that the class certification will be beneficial to both the plaintiffs and the defendants. “It gives authority to the defendant, so that no one later can come back and ask ‘what about me?’ All of the plaintiffs would be included in whoever is in the class,” says Brandt. “It also gives the plaintiffs an advantage because they can proceed in mass.”
Earlier in the case, Shell attempted to have the class action lawsuit stayed or dismissed due to two other similar cases they are facing which are still pending in Madison County. These attempts were unsuccessful and the case is now preparing to go to trial.
In addition to Shell Oil Company, the defendants in the lawsuit include Equilon Enterprises dba Shell Oil Products, US, ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining LP, ConocoPhillips WRB Partner and Cenovus GPCO.
Simmons is also representing the Village of Roxana in a similar lawsuit against Shell Oil Co.