RICHMOND -- In the latest lawsuit stemming from last summer's Chevron refinery fire, attorneys on behalf of more than 5,000 plaintiffs sued the company in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Monday. The lawsuit brings the total number of people suing the oil giant over the Aug. 6, 2012, fire to more than 11,000.
The suit, filed by the Houston-based Buzbee Law Firm and the Richmond-based Law Offices of R. Nicholas Haney, alleges that "reckless conduct" led to the fire that sent more than 15,000 people to area hospitals.
The firms were retained by Oakland-based attorney John L. Burris.
Earlier this year, the Buzbee Law Firm sued on behalf of about 6,000 residents. The total number of plaintiffs could climb to more than 20,000, Buzbee said Monday.
The suit lists nine causes for damages, including negligence, liability for ultrahazardous activity and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Buzbee said the interim investigation report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which determined that Chevron ignored its own inspectors' warnings that it should replace aging, corroded piping in its No. 4 crude unit, is key to his complaint.
"Chevron knew that there was a problem with their unit and failed to take timely action," Buzbee said in a prepared statement. "They put the health and safety of their own employees and the entire Bay Area community in jeopardy. This level of negligence is unacceptable, and we refuse to let them go unpunished."
Chevron's legal troubles have mounted in recent weeks with new penalties and legal actions stemming from the fire.
On Aug. 5, Chevron agreed to pay $2 million in fines and restitution after pleading no contest to six misdemeanor criminal counts, the result of joint charges by state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson.
Days earlier, city officials announced they hired Burlingame-based Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy to sue Chevron for damages, the first time the city has sued its largest taxpayer.
Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie released a statement in response to the new lawsuit.
"We review each case based on the merits of its claims and handle as appropriate through the legal process," Ritchie said. "We cannot comment on ongoing litigation."
Earlier this year, when Burris and Buzbee first announced they would sue Chevron, the corporation issued a statement saying it had "established a claims process to compensate community members" and does "not believe any lawsuits are necessary, and we will defend them vigorously."
Chevron has paid more than $10 million in claims to residents and reimbursements to hospitals and public services, Ritchie said.
Buzbee said his firm specializes in big cases and has won more than $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for its clients. Buzbee collected more than $500 million from BP alone as a result of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the BP Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 and other "incidents and accidents" caused by the oil giant, according to Buzbee's website.
In the complaint, Buzbee alleges that similar incidents involving corroded pipes failing have occurred on "six different occasions at Chevron refineries in the past 20 years, and several recommendations to inspect the piping at the Richmond refinery had been made in the years leading up to the fire."