Los Angeles prosecutors have already filed criminal charges against the Southern California Gas company, alleging they failed to report a huge methane leak near the city that spilled some 80,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere over the course of the past three months. And the California Attorney General joined a slew of city and county agencies suing SoCalGas in civil court.
But what about the thousands of residents of the area that were sickened and forced from their homes during the gas leak? Could more lawsuits be on the way?
The existing lawsuits accuse SoCalGas of violating state health and safety laws by failing to promptly report the leak, and creating a public nuisance. And criminal charges allege SoCalGas failed to report the leak for three days, when the leak was reported to be spewing 97,000 pounds of methane per hour.
Southern California Gas Company spokesman Mike Mizrahi disagreed, asserting, "When we discovered the leak, we made prompt notification to multiple agencies. We do not believe a criminal prosecution is warranted here." The company announced last week that a relief well had "intercepted the base of the leaking well" and temporarily halted the gas from leaking, and will continue to seal the leaking gas well.
SoCalGas also said that it has at least $1 billion worth of insurance policies that it believes will cover damages and litigation relating to the leak, but experts are skeptical that amount will be enough. In comparison, the 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno, California has cost PG&E upwards of $2 billion, with some claims still outstanding.
Residents of the area could have personal injury claims based on adverse health conditions due to methane exposure, as well as real estate damages claims based on the loss of property values because of the leak. It may take years for residents and the gas company to sort out potential claims, insurance coverage, and other litigation, especially considering the leak itself has yet to be permanently capped.
If you have questions regarding liability for gas companies, you can contact an experienced personal injury attorney near you.