Stack approves $19.5 million Hartford vapor settlement

Steve Korris Feb. 6, 2009, 12:16am


Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack approved a $19.5 million settlement between BP Products North America and Hartford residents on Jan. 26.

BP will pay $7.7 million for property damage and lost value, $5.1 million for loss of enjoyment and use, $6.5 million in plaintiff legal fees, and the rest for administration.

Hartford residents and property owners blame oil and pipeline companies for an underground petroleum lake that fouls the air with each rainfall.

Shell Oil subsidiary Equilon and Clark Oil successor Premcor Refining jointly settled claims for $16 million last April.

Stack brushed off a protest from Sinclair Oil attorney Joseph Nassif of St. Louis, who called the settlement unfair to Sinclair and everyone on Hartford's north side.

Nassif alleged conflict of interest, arguing plaintiff attorneys compromised the rights of north Hartford to satisfy weaker claims in south Hartford.

"The north Hartford residents have a strong argument that the south Hartford residents should get none of this settlement money," he wrote.

He wrote that Sinclair would move for summary judgment against south Hartford.

"Despite being one motion away from likely losing their claims, the residents of south Hartford are poised to receive millions of dollars in settlement monies from the BP entities, and from defendants Premcor and Equilon," he wrote.

If Sinclair prevails against south Hartford plaintiffs, Nassif wrote, the millions that plaintiff attorneys gave south Hartford would reduce Sinclair's setoff under the Illinois joint tortfeasors act.

Plaintiff attorney Mark Goldenberg of Edwardsville answered that representatives of north and south Hartford both approved the settlement.

He wrote that Sinclair once supported a settlement that included south Hartford.

"If Sinclair was acting in good faith when it made that offer, it cannot now argue that the BP Entities are acting in bad faith for settling under the same terms," he wrote.

According to Stack's approval order, more than 600 property owners will receive automatic benefits.

BP has received at least 600 other claims, he wrote.

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