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Refinery Fire Anniversary Passes, Chevron Still Getting Sued

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on August 07, 2013 3:53 PM

This past Saturday, community groups and environmental workers held a rally in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Richmond to mark the one-year anniversary of the Chevron refinery fire, started by a rupture in the pipeline, reports Reuters. The one-year anniversary however, has had much more significance for Chevron. On Monday, Chevron entered a plea to criminal charges alleging violations of the Labor and Health & Safety Codes.

Ah, but it doesn't end there for Chevron. On Friday, it came face-to-face with a civil action.

The Criminal Action Against Chevron

The six counts of Labor Code and Health & Safety Code violations all stemmed from the Chevron refinery fire. Chevron pled no contest, and as part of the settlement will inspect all pipelines subject to corrosion, and to implement business practices supporting the health and safety of its workers. In a press release, District Attorney Mark Peterson stated: "This criminal case achieves our goals of holding Chevron accountable for their conduct, protecting the public, and ensuring a safer work environment at the refinery."

The Civil Action Against Chevron

On Friday, the City of Richmond filed a civil action against Chevron alleging willful negligence, strict liability, private nuisance (continuing and permanent), public nuisance (continuing and permanent), and trespass. The 39-page complaint seeks a laundry list of damages including compensatory damages, punitive damages and costs.

The complaint claims that Chevron had a "corporate culture which places profits and executive pay over public safety;" "ignore[d] the dangers of corrosion;" "delay[ed] needed safety repairs;" and "spent $52.8 million to compensate its top three executives."

Ouch. This isn't looking good for Chevron.

Reuters reports that to date, Chevron has paid $10 million with respect to 23,000 claims arising from the refinery fire. At least, in the aftermath, Chevron is doing the right thing and paying up. We're guessing that the civil case will result in a big payout to the city of Richmond in the form of a settlement. Since the burden of proof is much lower in a civil action, and given Chevron's plea in the criminal action, not to mention the cost of litigation, we'd be surprised if this actually makes it to trial.

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