Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Refinery defendants deny liability in Roxana teacher’s benzene exposure suit

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Mar 22, 2016

Roxana refinery defendants deny liability and argue that they complied with state laws in a former Roxana Junior High School teacher’s lawsuit alleging exposure to benzene.

Gerald Maberry filed the lawsuit on Sept. 15 against Shell Oil Co., Equilon Enterprises LLC, doing business as Shell Oil Products, ConocoPhilips Co., WRB Partner LLC, Cenovus GPCO LLC and BP Products North America Inc.

According to the complaint, Maberry worked in Roxana as a teacher and claims the defendants’ refineries failed to contain certain harmful hydrocarbons safely and properly. As a result, the pollutants allegedly dispersed onto the plaintiff’s worksite, causing him bodily harm, the suit states.

Maberry alleges the defendants neglected proper safety procedures and was aware of such contaminations but failed to properly prevent harmful chemical leaks, allegedly resulting in pollution of the air and groundwater.

Shell Oil Company and Equilon Enterprises filed a combined motion for a more definite statement through attorneys Richard Korn and Erika Reynolds of Fox Galvin in St. Louis. They argue that Maberry failed to make specific allegations of when and where he was exposed to benzene and what illness he developed as a result of the exposure.

In response, Maberry filed his first amended complaint on Jan. 15 through attorney Ted Gianaris of the law office of Simmons Hanly Conroy in Alton.

He specified that he was a teacher at Roxana Junior High School from 1963 until 1990 and coached Roxana Junior High School sports and at Roxana Community Park during his tenure. As a result, he claims he developed injuries to blood-forming organs, including Multiple Myeloma.

Shell Oil Company answered the complaint on Feb. 8, denying the allegations against it.

In its 20 affirmative defenses, the defendant argues that Maberry’s own negligence or comparative fault contributed to his alleged injuries. It continues to argue that his alleged injuries are the result of preexisting conditions.

Shell Oil Company claims it is not liable because it “at all times exercised reasonable care, skill, and diligence and complied with applicable codes, regulations, standards or specifications” established by state law.

The defendant also argues that Maberry failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and his claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

ConocoPhillips answered the complaint on Feb. 12 through attorneys Gregg Kinney and Larry Hepler of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville, denying the allegations against it.

In its 44 affirmative defenses, the defendant alleges Maberry’s claims are barred for failure to join indispensable parties, by the statute of limitations and by the doctrine of estoppel, waiver, latches or equitable doctrine.

“ConocoPhillips defendants acted with due care and in accordance with federal, state and local laws and regulations in effect at the time of any alleged acts or omissions. At all relevant times, ConocoPhillips defendants’ conduct was licensed and permitted by the State of Illinois and the United States of America, barring plaintiff from any recovery herein,” the answer states.

The defendant adds that if Maberry was exposed to benzene, then the exposure was “inconsequential or de minimis, thus barring any recovery by plaintiff.”

BP Products answered the complaint on Feb. 16 through attorneys Joseph Orlet, Bryan Hopkins and Jordan Ault of Husch Blackwell LLP in St. Louis, denying liability.

In its 27 affirmative defenses, the defendant argues that the plaintiff’s claims are barred.

BP Products also argues that it conducted its operations in accordance with state laws.

“BPPNA’s conduct and activities were reasonable, prudent, and common in the industry and met the standards set by the appropriate government agencies,” the answer states.

The defendant adds that Maberry’s alleged injuries were caused by his own comparative negligence, fault and assumption of risk.

Maberry seeks damages of more than $50,000, plus court costs.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 15-L-1193

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Organizations in this Story

HeplerBroomSimmons Hanly ConroyConocoPhillips