Waves of oil spill lawsuits set to launch as OC residents, businesses and local governments seek accountability
An oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach has resulted in widespread loss to local residents, businesses and local governments, who increasingly seek to defend themselves in court to hold those responsible to account.
OC Oil Spill
- 144,000 gallons spilled
- 4,788 gallons of oily water recovered
- 23 miles of closed shoreline (Huntington Beach to Dana Point)
- 11,360 feet of dam installed in an attempt to curb the spread of oil
- 328 people on the ground in the cleaning effort
- General questions: 714-374-1702
- Stay away from affected wildlife, report: 877-823-6926
- Help with animals: 714-374-5587
- Cleaning assistance: 714-374-1702
- File a complaint: 866-985-8366
A rising tide of lawsuits has already lifted in the wake of the spill, a tide many experts expect will turn into a tsunami.
People have contacted a series of local law firms to ask them what their rights are in the face of the damage caused by the oil spill.
“We have been contacted by a number of important people in companies regarding their rights under the damage they have suffered and will suffer as a result of the oil spill,” said Wylie Aitken, founding partner of the law firm Aitken , Aitken and Cohn and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Voice of OC.
Two types of lawsuits should be filed: a mass tort action as well as class actions.
A mass action misdemeanor is made up of individual cases on the same incident combined into a single case to be dealt with by a court where a judge will make a decision on the damage suffered.
Class actions are for people who have suffered damage but not enough to have their own case. Homeowners, property owners, business owners and fishermen could all suffer losses and potentially pursue this type of litigation.
In such a disaster, it is rare that only one party is sued, often multiple entities are sued, said Aitken, a prominent local trial attorney who worked on the Toyota class action lawsuit in 2013.
There are open questions as to whether Amplify Energy, the company that operates the pipeline that has been damaged and leaked oil, has the financial resources to deal with the many claims and lawsuits that may be filed against the company. Today at 1 p.m. press conference at a unified command center where Amplify is represented alongside agencies like the Coast Guard, Amplify CEO Martyn Willshirer told reporters the company would be able to fulfill its responsibilities .
County supervisor Katrina Foley said in a text message Tuesday night that the supervisory board was exploring litigation options but had yet to file a complaint about the oil spill.
Tonight, Huntington Beach officials met behind closed doors to discuss legal actions, if any, to be taken regarding the spill and the impacts it has had on the town and its residents.
“The council voted unanimously in the absence of council members (Mike) Posey and (Rhonda) Bolton to allow me and my office to continue the litigation in order to protect the interests of the town in the matter, ”City Attorney Michael Gates said at the meeting.
Huntington Beach – a town heavily dependent on tourism and recreation – had to close its beaches due to the spill. He also canceled the airshow.
There is no set timetable for the beaches to reopen, with Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr saying she had heard “a few weeks to a few months”. No one from the task force commented on the date the beaches were reopened or the length of the recovery effort.
Tourism and recreation are the largest of the state’s ocean-dependent sectors and also have a huge impact on the national economy, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
If city officials decide to take legal action, they would not be the first party to do so.
The Milberg law firm on Monday filed a federal class action lawsuit against the pipeline operators – Amplify Energy and their Beta Offshore division.
They filed a lawsuit on behalf of Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., a Huntington Beach resident and owner of a DJ company that performs at waterfront events, as well as others.
“Countless fines are in effect as Milberg represents not only owners, but also owners of businesses whose livelihoods depend on Huntington Beach, including Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., a California DJ who claims he will lose a “substantial amount” of his business as long as the beach remains closed, “reads the company’s web page on the lawsuit.
~ Read the complaint here ~
The company calls on anyone affected by the oil spill disaster to contact them.
Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office is investigating all possible charges against Amplify Energy, saying “nothing is on the table yet.” District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s jurisdiction ends three miles from the coast, so the final location of the pipeline will determine what cases his office is able to pursue.
Regardless of where the leak is, Spitzer said he would pursue charges related to damage to wildlife along the coast and impacts to the shore.
[Read: OC District Attorney: Amplify Energy Should Not Investigate Its Own Oil Leak]
Some county residents, like KC Fockler, who sits on the Huntington Beach Environmental Council, are calling for a ban on new offshore drilling due to the economic and environmental impacts.
“Offshore drilling is a polluting activity that endangers our coastal economies, our communities and our natural resources. The impacts of routine operations and inevitable oil spills would dramatically harm our ocean recreation and tourism economy, ”Fockler said at a Huntington Beach city council meeting on Monday.
Chi said at the meeting that there were already people who suffered economic losses from the spill that caused the air show to be canceled.
“We’ve heard it all, from hotels seeing canceled reservations to businesses affected by what they were hoping to be an incredibly busy Sunday with the air show in town,” he said.
Businesses have already suffered economic losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chi said there is a hotline set up for people who have lost money to the spill and they can call 866-985-8366 and make a claim.
At the meeting, city council members declared the oil spill a state of emergency in the hope that such a declaration would help secure state and federal resources to deal with the impacts of the oil spill.
“We want to make sure that our businesses are made whole, our wetlands are restored and our economy is restored and that we become the ecological wonder of the tourist destination again – that we have two large wetlands in our city and that our local businesses are taken care of, ”City Councilor Dan Kalmick said at Monday’s meeting.
The Orange County oil spill was first widely reported on Saturday, October 2. Questions remain as to how and when the oil spill started.
Officials say they have closed the pipeline and there is no more oil leaking.
The cleanup is being managed by a task force led by the U.S. Coast Guard, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Amplify Energy, the operator of the busted pipeline. The cities of Long Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach are helping.
Hosam Elattar is a member of Voice of OC Reporting. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.