LOS ANGELES (Legal News Line) — Southern California's gas problem has reached the courtroom.
A gas leak in an affluent Los Angeles neighborhood has resulted in a class action lawsuit, Gandsey v. Southern California Gas Co. The utility discovered the leak on Oct. 23 and announced that it was “under control” on Feb. 12.
Many residents in the community have relocated, while those who did not leave their homes have complained of adverse health effects from the leak.
Approximately 25 civil actions against the utility stemming from the leak have been consolidated in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The lead suit seeks to represent all residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood who have been affected by the gas release.
“Methane is the primary concern, but there are other potentially toxic and harmful substances being released, such as natural gas,” said attorney Daniel Krainin of Beveridge & Diamond, who specializes in toxic tort cases.
The residents are seeking property damages. “Those run the gamut from diminution of property value to relocation,” Krainin said.
Those who claim medical effects or harm to their health are also pursuing personal injury damages. Krainin said they also have a potential claim for medical monitoring, in which the defendant would agree to set up a fund to pay for future medical examinations.
“There are a number of criteria that plaintiffs are required to establish in order to bring a successful claim, but medical monitoring is available under California law as a remedy for tort liability such as toxic exposure," he said.
The City of Los Angeles and the State of California have also filed suit. “They may well be consolidated and end up in front of the same judge as the Gandsey case,” Krainin said.
The State joined the City in the amended complaint as an additional plaintiff in the City’s lawsuit.
These cases are likely to be consolidated and all proceed together, at least for pre-trial purposes, according to Krainin.
As for a resolution, it will depend on the type of damages.
“The residents will only be able to recover once, whether through a class action vehicle or through an action brought by the State in a parens patriae capacity; they stand in the shoes of the residents, so to speak,” Krainin said.
“The residents have already sued and the class action is already out there, so that’s probably going to be the primary vehicle.”
The state may be entitled to additional damages beyond what the residents can recover, such as natural resource damages. The State is considered the trustee of its natural resources and thus can seek compensation or remediation for the greenhouse gases caused by the leak.
The State and the City can also sue to enforce their regulations and statutes. They can seek civil penalties or criminal action, relief that the City and State, but not residents, can pursue.