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Why we love American lawyers

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 09.22.43Just eight months ago, prominent Los Angeles attorney Tom Girardi used words like ”disgusting” and “despicable” to describe Shell Oil Co. But Girardi’s tune has changed since the company offered $90 million earlier this month to settle the lawsuit…: “The Shell defendant has shown great honesty and integrity,” Girardi said last week.

Shell offers $90 million to residents of contaminated Carson neighborhood

By Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze

Just eight months ago, prominent Los Angeles attorney Tom Girardi used words like ”disgusting” and “despicable” to describe Shell Oil Co.

He vowed at the time not to accept a financial settlement from Shell for Carson residents living with widespread petroleum contamination traced to the oil giant. “We want a jury to look at this,” he said in March.

But Girardi’s tune has changed since the company offered $90 million earlier this month to settle the lawsuit brought by Girardi & Keese on behalf of 1,491 current and former residents of the Carousel Tract in south Carson.

“The Shell defendant has shown great honesty and integrity,” Girardi said last week.

But some residents haven’t had a similar change of heart. At least one flier has been distributed asking Carousel neighbors to refuse the offer that would end the long-running legal saga that began six years ago with an environmental investigation.

“Before signing, beware,” the anonymous flier states. “(The offer is) not worth all the time and sacrifice we have made while living in this mess. The only ones benefitting are Girardi & Keese and Shell. Think before you sign.”

However, a group-signing event at Carson’s DoubleTree hotel last week drew so many plaintiffs that the gathering had to be dispersed early because of crowd-control concerns, according to residents speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to a confidential letter to residents from Girardi & Keese obtained by the Daily Breeze, the $90 million would be split between attorneys and residents, with a court-appointed “special master” to determine how much each plaintiff will receive based on their personal injury and property damage claims. Shell also has offered to compensate residents if they sell their homes for below-market values.

“It is our belief that justice has finally prevailed,” states the letter from Girardi & Keese. “For a personal injury claim to succeed, a plaintiff must first prove that the chemical in question is capable of causing the type of injury claimed.” The letter goes on to explain that this requirement makes it difficult to win personal injury cases in court.

The letter adds that property damage claims are also in danger of failing at trial because the damages were done so long ago, when the homes were built in the 1960s.

Residents are claiming a vast spectrum of illnesses — including cancer, blood disorders, headaches and asthma — from exposure to benzene, methane and other hazardous chemicals in petroleum.

They also are seeking damages for reduced home values and quality-of-life issues — for example, residents were told several years ago not to dig in their backyards because of the oil.

Shell Oil Co. has maintained its innocence since the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board named the company responsible for leaving tons of waste oil underground from a tank farm housed there from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Shell ultimately sold the land to developer Barclay Hollander Corp., which has since been purchased by Dole Food Co. The developer razed the old oil-storage tanks, buried the crumbled concrete and waste oil underground, and built 285 homes on about 50 acres.

Since 2008, environmental investigators have found petroleum products buried from just below the surface down to 50 feet deep in some areas, threatening groundwater supplies. Shell is seeking to have Dole named the responsible party.

In the meantime, the oil company is in the final stages of its environmental investigation and promises to start work soon to clean the entire neighborhood. Shell spokesman Alan Caldwell said the company decided to offer a settlement now so it can focus on its Remedial Action Plan, which is being reviewed for approval by the regional water board.

“We just felt it’s very important to resolve the litigation so we can remove that barrier, so we can focus on getting the Remedial Action Plan approved and implemented as soon as possible,” said Caldwell, who did not comment further on the legal issues.

The proposed $146 million cleanup plan suggests digging out 161,700 cubic yards of dirty soil and replacing it with clean dirt to depths of up to 10 feet. The remaining contamination would be cleaned with underground soil-vapor extraction and bioventing systems.

Mayor Jim Dear said Friday that he still believes Shell should remove all the homes, rather than trucking out dirt from their yards. The city joined the residents’ lawsuit last year and is in its own, separate settlement negotiations.

“For a number of years, I’ve been a very strong advocate that Shell should be purchasing all the homes,” Dear said. “This settlement agreement, to me, shows that Shell has moved a long way forward in coming close to what we’re asking for, and I’m happy about that.

“What I’m not happy about is that Shell seems to still be set on this idea that they can clean the soil without removing the homes.”


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