Featured Case: Jury Finds for Oil Companies in $70M Ground Water Contamination Remediation Case
The cleanup tab for New Bedford’s infamous Sullivan Ledge site - a former rock quarry later used as an industrial disposal facility - tallied more than $70 million when remediation was completed in 2000. It was one of the largest Superfund cleanups ever administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”) in Massachusetts.
Thus, it was no surprise when 13 of the companies that the EPA deemed “potentially responsible parties” went looking for indemnity participants.
These plaintiffs sued seven of the major oil companies (including the owners of the Amoco, Exxon, Mobil, Texaco and Chevron brands) under a state law theory that was broader in reach than applicable federal law which under which the EPA operates.
In essence, the plaintiffs contended that the oil companies had contributed to the pollution of the site because underground storage tanks from their branded stations were found underneath the dirt that the city excavated as part of a redevelopment project at the site of the old ledge.
Furthermore, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge had already entered a “partial judgment of liability” against the defendants, which essentially constituted a finding that there was compelling evidence that the defendants had deposited or had contributed to the deposit of tanks on the site.
But the Campbell Trial Lawyers were willing to take the case all the way to a jury based on the preparation and research of their team.
“It was a complex case, but simply put, we proved that the old tanks were not the proximate cause of the groundwater contamination that necessitated the cleanup,” recalls defense counsel Richard P. Campbell. He argued to the jury that the site was contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs) and other compounds that had nothing to do with the underground storage tanks.
Campbell notes that opposing counsel were “excellent lawyers with experience in environmental matters,” as well as having been associated at one time with one of the premier plaintiffs’ firms in the Commonwealth.
Nonetheless, after Campbell’s team of lawyers and experts presented their evidence and impeached the conclusions of opposing experts during a month-long trial, it took the jury little time to return a complete defense verdict for all of the oil company defendants.