Background Facts – A U.S. state environmental agency opened an inquiry into benzene levels in homes near a refinery based on vapor intrusion from benzene releases in the 1970s and 1980s. Our client, who was a former owner of the refinery, was required to conduct testing in these homes, and to create a website to keep the local public and media informed of the results. The client owned this refinery from 1917- 2000, and the houses and schools at issue were within one mile of the refinery.
Emergency Response Issues – The opening of the state’s inquiry attracted heavy local media coverage. This increased scrutiny resulted in town hall meetings, additional media inquiries, extension of the testing to a local high school, the filing of multiple class actions for property damage, and the filing of 13 lawsuits by individuals residing near the refinery who claimed their cancer (typically leukemia or lymphoma) was caused by benzene spills, releases, and emissions.
Our Role – Our lawyers were hired as national coordinating counsel for all benzene cases. We served as coordinating counsel for all the benzene cancer lawsuits, including commenting on statements to the media, overall case strategies, advising on the retention of experts, and coordinating company depositions.
Outcome – While weathering the storm of intense media scrutiny, we were able to resolve lawsuits favorably prior to trial and without incurring large expenditures. Most of the lawsuits are still pending, but our involvement has meant that they are being managed in a collective and effective manner, and without attracting the attention of the national media.