Three law firms in Richmond, Calif., have announced class action lawsuits against Chevron Corporation for gross negligence and mishandling of the August 6 refinery fire that sends thousands to the hospital and continues to leak crude oil.
With a single firm, more than 3,000 plaintiffs are suing for what they consider to be a preventable fire that adversely affected the health of many in the area. Over 10,000 have brought claims against Chevron, whose spokesperson said would evaluate each claim for legitimacy as they come.
The fire began as a leak releasing fumes into the atmosphere. Workers evacuated and somehow a spark, which as of yet cannot be identified, ignited the fumes in a fireball. The fire was contained, but lasted for hours in order to maintain pressure and prevent an explosion.
Warning sirens went off for hours to alert residents to stay indoors and away from the refinery area. The emergency warning system consists of 17 sirens and an automated phone message system to alert residents of what to do. The phone calls came to some hours after the fire began. Officials were alerted to the Chevron situation
The resulting smoke plume rose high into the San Francisco Bay area sky and over 14,000 people went to hospitals with respiratory problems. Chevron officials originally told residents that the smoke particles weren’t dangerous, but area air quality monitors were unable to test for the particles in question.
As residents sought medical compensation, Chevron opened a claims center to reimburse those with what they consider legitimate claims. The volume of affected people was so great that it warranted a second claims center. Both were closed within weeks of the fire on August 25 with Chevron refusing to take further injury claims.
Chevron has a long history with the city of Richmond reaching back to 1901, near the time of the city’s foundation. Richmond is an industrial town and has been referred to as a refinery town. It has levels of crime and has been dealing with increasing danger in the city for decades.
This accident is not the first time for Chevron in the city of Richmond. The refinery has a history of over 300 accidents and produced over 11 million pounds of toxic waste. Chevron was fined $540,000 in 1998 for bypassing proper water waste treatment and failing to notify residents. The refinery also commonly releases chlorine and sulfuric gases. People in Richmond have higher rates of cancer and respiratory ailments in comparison to the rest of California and the United States.
Investigative crews are still unable to approach the source of the leak that resulted in a fire. Four separate outside organizations are conducting investigations, as well as Chevron’s independent research. The scope of the negligence and resulting damage is still unclear and it could take up to 18 months for complete investigation.
In the meantime, Chevron has paid out over 1,000 claims to affected individuals. However, some settlements are less than $100. Community leaders warn against taking the small, immediate payment until the effects have been fully understood. Some settlements may cover the cost of a prescription, but limit legal rights.
For people intending to make a personal injury claim, be sure to have documentation of your injuries. Until a doctor diagnoses your injury, it will be hard to substantiate your claims. Have patience as investigations continue and the thousands upon thousands of claims are processed.
Written on behalf of the marketing department for Robert Koenig, personal injury attorney.