Lake of Gas Yields $19.5M Settlement


Five Missouri plaintiffs' firms, including two in Kansas City, and an Illinois firm nailed down a $19.5 million settlement in a class action lawsuit over an underground gasoline lake in Hartford, Ill.

Madison County, Ill., Circuit Court Judge Daniel Stack on Monday gave final approval to the settlement between current and former residents of the southern Illinois town and BP Products North America, one of five oil company defendants.

About $7.7 million of the settlement will be used to reimburse owners for property damage. Approximately $5.2 million will be used to reimburse residents who had to relocate and for loss of enjoyment or use of property. Lead plaintiffs will receive an incentive award of about $5,000 each, for a total of $60,000.

The remainder of the money, about $6 million, will go for plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and administrative costs. The settlement calls for Kansas City firm Stueve Siegel Hanson and Edwardsville, Ill., firm Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland to each receive half of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees to distribute to the plaintiffs' firms in the case. The Woody Law Firm of Kansas City also participated.

Robert Olian, a partner in the Chicago office of the Sidley law firm, represented BP.

Covered by the settlement are any people who had property in the Village of Hartford from Jan. 1, 1984, to the October preliminary approval of the settlement.

One plaintiff opted out of the settlement and another initially objected to it but has dropped his opposition after talking with plaintiffs' attorneys, Goldenberg Heller partner Mark Goldenberg told Stack at the approval hearing.

"It surprised me that someone actually opted out," Stack said.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are "working with" the plaintiff who opted out, Stueve Siegel Hanson attorney Norman Siegel said.

Hartford, next to the banks of the Mississippi River, has been an oil refining area for almost a century. The lawsuit alleges spills and leaking pipelines have released gasoline and petroleum products into residential soil, groundwater and surface water and created the underground lake.

The settlement is the second in the case. Defendants Premcor Refining Group and Equilon Enterprises, now part of Shell, last year agreed to pay $16 million.

About 600 people have filed claims for a piece of that settlement. Checks will be going out in March, Goldenberg told Stack at the approval hearing. Those who file a claim for a portion of the second settlement "should get real money," this year, Goldenberg said.

Many of the checks going out for the first settlement are for as much as $10,000, Goldenberg said in an interview after the hearing.

Left as defendants are Apex Oil Co. and Sinclair Oil Corp. Plaintiffs' attorneys may face new difficulties in the case against those defendants because Stack indicated at an earlier hearing that there might be a statute of limitations on the claims of owners with property in South Hartford, south of First Street, Goldenberg said.

By Heather Cole

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