Tuesday, February 20 , 2018, 12:37 am | Fair 42º


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Homeowner Files Class-Action Suit Over Refugio Oil Spill

The owner of a home just up the beach from the oil spill off the Gaviota coast has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Plains All American Pipeline, alleging negligence in an attempt to recover more than $5 million in losses and to prevent future disaster.

Santa Barbara attorney A. Barry Cappello of Cappello & Noel LLP filed the class-action suit this week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Alexandria Geremia, who owns oceanfront property north of Refugio State Beach, where more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled when a Plains pipeline ruptured on May 19.

The lawsuit alleges Plains All American — owner of Line 901, the pipeline responsible — failed to install an automatic shut-off valve that could’ve averted the tragedy that has since killed wildlife, closed beaches and left a lingering noxious odor of crude oil.

Cappello is calling on all California beachfront property owners between Point Conception and the Mexican border to join in.

He believes that group could include 3,000 to 25,000 individuals or entities, considering some oil deposits could be found a year or two from now.

Several homeowners are already contemplating joining the lawsuit, and Cappello told Noozhawk he plans to announce those numbers in the coming weeks.

“What typically occurs with oil spills is the weather ultimately determines where the oil hits the shore,” Cappello said. “Right now it’s currents, and the currents have been depositing oil as far north as Gaviota — that we know of — and as far south as Manhattan Beach.

“I think it’s important that the purpose of this lawsuit isn’t just an issue of damages. We’re in this to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to force Plains to replace the pipeline with an automatic shut-off valve.

The oil spill directly encroached on the once-valuable property Geremia has owned the past couple years, so much that she can’t even walk on the beach, the lawsuit stated.

“Ms. Geremia believes the negative consequences of defendants’ oil spill will continue to depress the value of her property for the remainder of the year and for years to come,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ acts and omissions have therefore caused present injury to Ms. Geremia, as well as the concrete risk of imminent, additional injury.”

The lawsuit alleges Plains has a spotty track record, having been cited for at least 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006.

According to the complaint, a Plains pipeline ruptured in 2014 at Los Angeles’s Atwater Village, sending more than 18,000 gallons of crude through the city’s streets.

“This tragedy could have been averted had defendants installed an automatic shut-off valve on the pipeline,” the suit states. “Such mechanisms are common on pipelines across the country. Line 901 appears to be the only pipeline of its kind in Santa Barbara County without this key safety feature.”

Plains representatives could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit, but the oil company has set up a claims-filing process for individuals and businesses that feel they’ve been impacted.

The lawsuit aims to recover “significant injuries and economic losses” via a jury trial.

Any homeowner interested in learning more about the lawsuit can contact Cappello at [email protected] or Lawrence Conlan, his partner in the case, at [email protected].

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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