October 4, 2022
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Judge approves $230M settlement in Refugio oil spill lawsuit

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A federal judge has given final approval of a $230 million settlement for property owners and fishers damaged when Houston-based oil company Plains All American Pipeline’s pipe ruptured in 2015 and oil spilled near the Gaviota coast in Santa Barbara County.

Federal District Court Judge Philip S. Gutierrez on Sept. 20 granted final approval of a class action settlement in wake of the Refugio oil spill, according to a release from Capello & Noël, a Santa Barbara law firm representing the plaintiffs.

The settlement includes $184 million to a class of fishers and seafood processors who operated in the areas impacted by the oil spill, plus $46 million to compensate owners and lessees of property impacted by the spill, Capello & Noël said.

The settlement administrator can now begin processing and paying claims submitted by affected fishers and property owners.

There are just over 8,000 property owners and slightly more than 2,000 fishers and fish processors affected, Leila Noël, a partner at Cappello & Noël, told the Business Times.

“We view this as a critical completion of this case,” she said.

Cappello & Noël, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Keller Rohrback LLP, and Audet & Partners achieved the settlement in the litigation.

The amounts, net of attorney fees, costs and administration expenses, will be distributed to class members who submit claims, based on a court-approved distribution plan.

People who believe they may be eligible can contact the court-appointed administrator, JND Legal, to obtain further information about the settlement, the statement from Capello & Noël said. The deadline to file a claim is Oct. 31.

The oil spill was the result of a ruptured onshore pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline. More than 142,000 gallons of crude oil spilled onto the coastline, much of it into the ocean.

Before the spill, 130 miles of Plains-operated pipeline was used to transport crude oil from the Santa Barbara coast to inland refineries in California. The company has not reopened its pipeline, and its applications to transport oil by truck instead have been rejected by Santa Barbara County regulators.

Additional litigation is proceeding over claims by oil workers, Noël said. There’s also a class action pending in federal court for litigation on behalf of “property owners on which the old pipeline runs,” Noël told the Business Times.