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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chevron Fire: Richmond Residents File Lawsuit Against Oil Company

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 5:10 PM

click to enlarge SUZANNE STATHATOS
  • Suzanne Stathatos

"If there's somethin' strange in your neighborhood/ If it's somethin' weird and it don't look good/ Who ya gonna call?"

Ghotsbusters? No. When heaps of smoke, ash, and fumes from the nearby Chevron Refinery enveloped their neighborhood, Richmond residents called Attorney John Burris to learn about their legal rights regarding this toxic fire.

This afternoon, Burris led civil rights attorneys in filing a lawsuit on behalf of over 1,000 Richmond residents against the Chevron refinery due to their gross "negligence in their safety mechanisms and how they responded to the fire," he said.

Burris pins their negligence on Chevron's failure to take corrective action when the company had known of the refinery's aging pipes since 2011.

"This was avoidable," he said. "This community deserves better. They should not have been subject to this explosion."

The lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, listed the following accusations: equitable relief, battery, negligence, negligence per se, private nuisance, trespass, strict liability for ultra-hazardous activity, unfair business practices, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Richmond residents were there supporting Burris and his legal crew, too. Charles H. Simmons, who has lived in North Richmond for more than two years, described last Monday's blaze, when a vapor leak caused diesel-like gas to spark a fire at Chevron's Crude Unit No. 4, as hell on Earth.

"When I looked around I could see it going up, and when you held your hand out, you'd get a handful of it as it came down," he said. "It was raining -- one minute, you could see the sky, and 30 minutes later, you could not."

While Burris says he understands the importance of Chevron to the mostly low-income community -- and to the nation, he's drawing the line here, saying that Chevron isn't going to get another free pass.

Out of this lawsuit, Burris hopes that Chevron will "understand the gravity of its mistakes," he said. He hopes Chevron will put mechanisms and monitors in place that will minimize the likelihood that this kind destructive fire happens again.

"Years from now, society will look back and go, 'Oh my God! How did we allow ultra-hazardous activities to be next to populations with hundreds of thousands of people?'" attorney Matthew Kumin said. "At some point, these [questions] have to be confronted. Right now, this is not going to result in the closing of a plant, but hopefully we'll be able to get monitors and some accountability."

"At the end of the day, one has to say enough is enough. It has to stop," Burris said.

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Suzanne Stathatos


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