Chevron refinery fire sets off money grab

Aug, 10, 2012

By Joseph Perkins

Well, that didn’t take long. No sooner did Chevron douse the fire this week at its Richmond oil refinery before a couple thousand folks, claiming some sort of personal injury or another, started looking for a way to get paid.

More than a thousand “victims” of the Richmond fire, complaining of coughs, nausea, scratchy throats and even “psychological trauma,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle, somehow managed to make it to the law office of Nick Haney, despite their supposed debilitating ailments.

Why Haney? Because the all-too-opportunistic Richmond trial lawyer placed two large signs in his office windows urging prospective plaintiffs, “File Chevron Claims Here.” So many folks qued up outside his office he sent five of his assistants out into the streets to handle paperwork.

Of course, the fire at the Chevron refinery’s crude distillation unit (CDU) was not quite the public health catastrophe it was made out be in some news accounts.

While there were scary reports of “toxic fumes,” of public warnings issued to residents of Richmond and neighboring cities to stay indoors, of some 1,700 people visiting emergency rooms (but almost none actually admitted to the hospital, the San Francisco Chronicle noted), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District determined that air quality was safe following the Richmond fire.

It wasn’t Chernobyl, where the 1986 meltdown of the Soviet nuclear plant killed as many as 50. It wasn’t Bhopal, where a 1984 gas leak at a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary caused the deaths of 4,000 to 8,000 thousands (according to who’s counting).

It wasn’t even Marin County, where South San Francisco construction company JMB damaged a sewage line in 2010, spilling 2.5 million gallons of wastewater. No one died. But it sure did smell pretty foul.

So why, then, skeptics ask, did Chevron set up shop this week in a downtown Richmond storefront to handle the 1,000 or so people complaining of fire-related ailments who contacted the San Ramon company directly?

Because Chevron hoped to head off Haney and other contingency-fee lawyers who view  the Richmond refinery fire as an opening to round up potential plaintiffs with which to extort a payout from Chevron.

Indeed, in no other state does a deep-pocket corporation like Chevron face a greater risk of being hit with a class action lawsuit than here in the Golden State. It is one the biggest reasons why corporate CEOs consider California one of the worst states in the country in which to do business.

In 2010, to cite an especially disquieting example, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury returned an astronomical $208.8 million judgment against CertainTeed Corporation, a manufacturer of building materials.

The plaintiff in the case said her husband worked at the L.A. Department of Water for 20 years cutting pipe made by CertainTeed that contained asbestos. Her claim was that, by washing his clothes, she became ill from indirect exposure to asbestos fibers. Never mind that hubby, himself, remains very much alive and well after years of direct exposure

Now if an L.A. jury saw fit to award a single plaintiff more than $200 million on a rather questionable claim, what might a jury in the no less liberal San Francisco-EastBay award 1,000 plaintiffs?

That’s why Chevron just might be willing offer a few hundred bucks to those who show up at itsRichmondstorefront claiming fire-related medical expenses.


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  1. Kaci
    Kaci 11 August, 2012, 09:47

    It is also possible that Chevron is attempting to offset any future lawsuits, since the full effect on the local environment and housing values may take years to become apparent. I, for one, did not seek immediate medical treatment, but I am considering asking Chevron to pay for the costs associated with making my 1942 Richmond home safer in the event of future industrial accidents — replacing loose-fitting doors and windows. Also, because the chemicals in the smoke which floated over my house for several hours are known to have hazardous health effect over long periods of time, I would like them to cover the cost of pet health insurance for the lifetimes of my two dogs. I would also like them to make a donation to the East Bay Parks, several of which were exposed to the toxic smoke.

    No, it is not Chernobyl — thank goodness — but this is yet another setback for a community that already had enough problems with poverty, crime, and health. For those of us who are homeowners, in the midst of a downturn in the housing market, our property values were destroyed once more, this time by flames and smoke.

    Reply this comment
  2. Hondo
    Hondo 11 August, 2012, 13:37

    You are whats wrong with this country. You are going to sue but have not proved, or given in your response, any damage. Yet you complain about the high cost of gas, brought on by sue happy losers like you.
    Kaci, you are a professional victim, you will never be happy in your life. Every failure or problem in your life you blame someone else. Then call your lawyer.
    Kaci, have you ever been in a car accident. Everyone has. Nothing and noone is perfect, except you and your pretty little dogs.
    Kaci, you are going to die, as will each of your dogs, and everyone you know, too. I am going to die too. There is no way out of this world alive. That will be true weather or not the Richmond fire happened or not. Who will you sue in heaven. Will you sue God if you go the other way. I would guess that you file a lawsuit when anyone close to you dies, hoping to prove that they, and you, are immortal.
    Kaci, it is losers like you who have destroyed so many small hispanic business with your ADA lawsuit frenzy.
    I will conclude by saying ‘HAVE A NICE DAY’, though that is impossible for someone so professionally unhappy like you. I am having a nice day, really. I choose to be positive and happy. I understand I am not perfect and that I am not immortal SO I CHOOSE TO ENJOY THIS LIFE AND NOT BLAME ANYONE ELSE FOR THE FACT THAT THE WORLD IS NOT PERFECT AND THAT I AM MORTAL AND WILL DIE. Hopefully in my sleep (lucky bastard).

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 11 August, 2012, 21:50

    Hondo, there is no doubt in my mind there could be very serious health risks and consequences as a direct result of the fire, what is one supposed to do?? Wait 20 years and hope they are OK?

    I don’t blame people who suffer health problems as a direct result of the fire-the problem is how do we stop the fraud that also gets mixed in?? I don’t know the answer to that.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rizzle
    Rizzle 12 August, 2012, 11:36

    YOU are whats wrong with this country. The problem doesn’t effect you so screw it right? The fact is that based on financial constraints many of us have no choice but to live in low income areas. These low income areas are rife with pollutants poured on us by uncaring industry. Obviously if you don’t live in these areas then you don’t see it. Why do we not deserve to live a decent life? We work our asses off to try and build something for our families, despite the right-wing stigma that we don’t. Hondo, you are a piece of work, take your superior attitude, stuff it with your manifest destiny, wrap that with your unearned sense of self satisfaction and go fuck yourself with it.

    Reply this comment
  5. Edward Steele, Chief Investigator
    Edward Steele, Chief Investigator 13 August, 2012, 08:40

    I think the Rizzle unit raises a very good point here, swearing notwithstanding nevertheless heretofore etc.

    Reply this comment
  6. John Steele
    John Steele 14 August, 2012, 07:36

    Look people. Your being way to charitable here. They are known as cockroaches and they are ALL welfare cases lining up to get free money from the evil oil company. Chevron is right and is going to head off the low life lawyers circling the refinery like buzzards. These people are well aware about what Chevron will do. This has happened several times and the cockroaches line up and chant about how they can’t breath, coughing etc. Of course living by a refinery can’t be healthy, but the cockroaches know they will get free money so they play it up. They are the laughing stock of the citizens in the surrounding cites and counties. I have been in restaurants recently and have heard all the crud jokes being made about them. The kindest name was cockroaches

    Reply this comment
    • dee
      dee 2 September, 2017, 17:45

      its called klansman eat holes, not restaurants…we already know what white people say in those places…white people will make kkkrud jokes about anybody..its.because of people like the ones in those restaurants that people have to live next to refineries..

      Reply this comment
  7. denise
    denise 22 August, 2012, 23:55

    I would love to see an oil refinery set up in some rich, white neighborhood and watch the reaction if a fire set off and there precious white kids were forced to smell the disgusting residue! I for one have worked since the age of 13! And after 11 years of working for the district as a social worker was dismissed because I live in a country that supports wars for oil and profit and corporate welfare!!!! I think ALL people should sue Cheveron if they can because money is all these bastards care about! The fact is that these lawsuits force them to take better care of their operation not because they give a phuk but because they love money! I am on welfare which I have paid into since the age of 13 since losing my job 3 months ago and I didn’t go to the hospital but I was out on the street because my son who is an athelete was at practice. Aside from being on aid I tutor privately, I cook for a family 3days a week and go to the flea market every weekend. I am not just sitting on my ass and most people recieving aid have jobs. Of course alot of the people showing up to the hospital were poor because that’s where they put the plants- not in your safe, lily white world!The only cockroaches are the corporate elite who get away with poisoning the air of the poor on a daily basis- with or without the fire our air is polluted everyday but you arrogant bastards with your arrogant comments don’t live close enough to smell it so shut the phuk up!!!!

    Reply this comment

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