An Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge last week issued an order certifying a class of more than 123,000 local residents in a lawsuit against the steelmaking giant filed in 2019 claiming the company was grossly negligent/reckless in the way it handled a Dec. 24, 2018 fire at its Clairton plant and its aftermath.
In the order that you can read here, the judge wrote:
There are possible difficulties Plaintiffs’ counsel will encounter when managing the approximate 123,000 member-class. Several of the potential difficulties that the Court anticipates are class notification as well as distribution of potential monetary damages. However, Plaintiffs’ counsel has argued that they are more than capable of handling the task ahead of them. The Named Plaintiffs have only alleged negligence and private nuisance as opposed to multiple claims that would require separate actions. The Court sees no reason not to certify the class based on the approximate size of the class; Pennsylvania courts have certified classes of larger sizes. The Court does not foresee any manageability issues that counsel could not handle.
Not familiar with the underlying lawsuit? Here’s what happened:
The suit that you can read here specifically alleges that U.S. Steel:
Failed to develop and/or maintain adequate policies and procedures as necessary to prevent the Dec. 24, 2018, Clairton Plant fire;
Failed to develop and implement an adequate mechanical integrity program necessary to prevent any such fires;
Failed to develop, design, construct, inspect, maintain, operate, control, and/or engineer proper gas processing center compressors, piping, and/or pressure letdown devices as necessary to counter the risk of explosion or fire in its gas processing
Failed to develop and employ a backup release management plan to control the release of noxious gas and other harmful emissions in the event of a fire;
Failed to notify Plaintiff and the Class of the Dec. 24, 2018, Clairton Plant Fire and the hazardous emission levels until Jan. 9, 2019;
Failed to sufficiently reduce production and thereby emissions at the Clairton Plant following the Dec. 24, 2018 fire and until the emission reduction system was repaired and functioning
Otherwise failed to develop, design, construct, inspect, maintain, operate, control, and/or engineer its Clairton Plant to prevent catastrophic fires and uncontrolled releases of noxious gas and other harmful emissions.
In the suit, attorneys for Linda Hernandez, 38, write that the fire “triggered repeated high health alerts from the Allegheny County Health Department, causing widespread nuisance discomfort (offensive odor, burning eyes, nose, and throat, difficulty breathing, sleep loss, headaches, anxiety) and impeding area residents’ use and enjoyment of their homes.”
The suit seeks “lost use and enjoyment damages to vindicate private property rights – not enforcement of environmental statutes, regulations, or regulatory permits; monetary damages, not injuctive relief.”
Punitive damages are also being sought.
Editor’s Note: GASP followed the Clairton Coke Works fire and its aftermath closely and will continue to follow this story. We’ll keep you posted as the case proceeds.