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The Daily Journal (Illinois): How Shell Oil case became national in scope

03/03/2008, 10:33 am
By Robert Themer
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815-937-3369

“It started out when two women came into my office with health issues and a contaminated well,” Kankakee attorney Joseph Yurgine said of the class-action lawsuit brought against Shell Oil Co. in the aftermath of the 1988 pipeline spill in Limestone Township.

Last week in a Kankakee County courtroom, Judge Gordon Lustfeldt approved a $46 million settlement in principal. Final details are yet to be worked out, Yurgine said.

“Then it just mushroomed to involve six law firms from five states.”

The suit was filed on Dec. 12, 2001 on behalf of Edith Quick and three relatives — Jeffrey Quick, Carl Kibbons and Gregory Buckley. The suit said they had health problems and that blood and urine tests had found the contaminants toluene, benzene and MTBE.

Soon the case grew huge. It would take detours through New York and California before a settlement was reached late last year.

After originating in Kankakee County, the case was removed for evaluation as a class action to federal court in the Southern District of New York, where U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin “was handling over 150 cases involving MTBE contamination,” Yurgine said.

“The judge certified the class and it became one of the focus cases she had,” he said. “Then we were able to get it expedited and that put the fire under Shell to get the settlement.”

Yurgine said he initially brought in Chicago lawyer John Cashion to help with the case. “Then we were inundated with so much that we got another law firm out of California — Miller, Axline and Sawyer out of Sacramento. They had handled a case against Shell in a similar situation and got a million-dollar settlement at Lake Tahoe.”

The settlement of the Limestone case came through the efforts of retired federal judge Daniel Weinstein. He is described as one of the pre-eminent mediators of complex civil suits in the country.

The settlement involves only property damages and the provision of safe water to the area, Yurgine said. The health-related cases are separate.
 
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