Judge Orders Citgo to Pay $500K in Damages From Louisiana Oil Spill

July 30, 2009

Louisiana State District Judge Mike Canaday awarded 14 plaintiffs more than $500,000 in damages from a 2006 oil spill at the Citgo refinery south of Sulphur, La.

Included in the award are $30,000 in punitive damages for each plaintiff and $2,500 in damages for mental stress over the plaintiffs’ fears of developing a future disease.

Canaday’s ruling is expected to be the benchmark for other cases still pending. A Citgo official said the company would appeal the ruling.

Richard Wilson, the plaintiffs’ attorney said, “I believe that Judge Canaday was correct in determining that not only was Citgo responsible for the spill and the injuries that resulted to our clients but it rose to a level high enough that he awarded punitive damages.”

Wilson said 800 lawsuits against Citgo remain to be tried in state court. He said he is confident the ruling will be upheld on appeal.

Eduardo Assef, general manager of Citgo’s Lake Charles facility, said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the judgment and strongly believe this decision is completely inconsistent with both the facts of the case and the law. While we intend to appeal, we do agree with the court that the plaintiffs did not suffer the severe injuries their trial lawyers said they did.”

The claims stem from an oil spill and air release that closed down the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The plaintiffs involved in the suit tried by Canaday were involved in the cleanup operation.

Citgo admitted fault and agreed to pay all compensatory damages that the plaintiffs could prove were caused by the spill, according to Canaday’s ruling.

But Citgo contended it was not liable for punitive damages.

Canaday said he had to determine whether Citgo’s actions were the proximate cause of each plaintiff’s injury and assess the extent of those injuries.

Heavy rains and a series of equipment failures early on June 19, 2006, led to a spill of nearly 100,000 barrels of waste oil at Citgo’s refinery south of Sulphur.

The spill was called the largest in Southwest Louisiana’s history and one of the largest ever in the state. It took months and millions of dollars to clean up.

In September 2008, Citgo pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to misdemeanor negligence and paid a $13 million fine for the oil and chemical spill.

Information from: American Press, www.americanpress.com

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