RICHMOND -- Two law firms announced Tuesday they have signed on 4,800 plaintiffs to a new lawsuit alleging that Chevron's Richmond refinery was negligent in maintenance practices and lax in alerting the community to an Aug. 6 fire at a refinery crude unit.
The suit expands on the legal action filed by Oakland-based attorney John Burris less than two weeks after the blaze, which sent black smoke wafting over the East Bay and sent thousands to area hospitals seeking treatment.
The plaintiffs, who range from infants to the elderly, suffered a wide range of health issues, including serious respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms since the fire, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are represented by Tony Buzbee and Kyle Beckley of The Buzbee Law Firm, of Houston, Texas, and Burris and Adante Pointer, of the Law Offices of John L. Burris.
In a news release, Burris said, "Chevron compounded this public health threat by delaying the issuance of a countywide warning until hours after discovering the leak ... As a result, thousands of area residents, workers and visitors were exposed to the toxic plume emanating from the refinery."
Soon after the fire, Chevron opened 24-hour claims hot lines and took thousands of claims by phone and in person at offices it opened in community centers.
The fire remains under investigation by federal, state and regional investigators, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
Chevron spokesman Derek Jansen released a statement late Tuesday saying the lawsuit will be contested and that the energy giant is cooperating with investigators.
"Because Chevron USA established a claims process to compensate community members for medical and property-loss claims following the Aug. 6 incident, we do not believe any lawsuits are necessary, and we will defend them vigorously," Jansen wrote via email.
The lawsuit alleges the refinery has been the source of 19 fires, spills and explosions since 1989. It seeks unspecified damages, safety upgrades, attorneys' fees and court costs.