EAST ST. LOUIS – A federal court judge ordered that residents living in or near Roxana are due nearly $5 million in damages over allegations Shell Oil and its affiliates were responsible for releasing benzene into the ground that contaminated the water and devalued properties.
Shell and ConocoPhillips are ordered to settle the class action that included claims of hundreds of people, according to the Feb. 23 order.
District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel approved the final settlement, stating, “the court finds the settlement class adequately and fairly encompasses those properties situated above and adjacent to the groundwater contamination that is the subject of this action and that may have experienced a decrease in value as a result of the groundwater contamination.”
Class counsel - attorneys at the Simmons firm in Alton and others - will receive more than $1.2 million in fees, and more than $100,000 in costs and expenses.
Class representative Jeana Parko filed suit against Shell in 2012 in Madison County, claiming that Shell’s refinery in Wood River released benzene, which contaminated the groundwater surrounding the properties. Benzene is a colorless liquid found in coal tar and petroleum, and its carcinogenic properties has caused many lawsuits involving personal injury or death.
Shell has also been accused of polluting the Roxana area with other chemicals, such as toluene and ethylbenzene.
The class alleged that the refinery permitted 18 spills during a 25-year time, more than 200,000 pounds of benzene. The members alleged concern that their property values would decrease due to the contaminated water and that they have or had suffered loss of use or enjoyment on their properties. The lawsuit includes people who have lived in the covered 183 parcels of land from 1986 to 2017.
The district court granted class certification in 2013 but was reversed in 2014 when Shell objected to the settlement agreement, requesting that each claimant to litigate individually. However, class certification was again granted.
Rosenstengel affirmed the previous ruling that class certification was the best way to proceed and said in the court order for final settlement, “In this action, a class action settlement is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. It would be inefficient for each class member to separately prove his or her claims against defendants in this complex environmental contamination case.”
Rosenstengel also noted in the order that if litigated separately, the plaintiffs may not succeed against Shell.
Shell was ordered to pay up to a maximum of $4.48 million to the total class settlement fund, and ConocoPhillips “will contribute $350,000 to the total class settlement fund,” the order states.
Rosenstengel outlined in the order that the settlement excludes future claims for injuries or wrongful death, “Plaintiffs represented that, to the best of their knowledge, they have not developed, and do not now have, any sickness or injury caused by, or resulting from, exposure to contamination or other substances which the Shell defendants allegedly caused or for which the defendants are legally responsible.”
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois case number 3:12-CV-00336-NJR-RJD