Post-trial hearing set for April in groundwater contamination lawsuit

February 27, 2012 

Judge Carol Ash set a deadline next month for both sides in a contamination lawsuit to file whatever post-trial motions they might make. She also set a hearing for April 24 to hear both sides' motions.

Both sides met Monday at Merced County Superior Court to set deadlines and dates for the process.

Post-trial motions can include requests for a new trial or for a verdict to be overturned.

A verdict was reached earlier this month in the groundwater contamination lawsuit brought by Merced against several major oil companies. A jury found three oil companies that went to trial liable for damages to the city, totaling more than $2.9 million.

The contamination was caused by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a fuel additive that was used in the 1990s to help fuel burn cleaner and cut down on air pollution.

Jeanne Schechter, chief deputy city attorney, said the city filed a motion a few days ago requesting that the court order the defendants to be responsible for future cleanup based on the jury verdict. The court probably will hear the city's motion sometime in the future, she said.

The city's lawsuit said the oil companies sold the fuel with MTBE to local gas stations from 1992 to 2002, and that the MTBE leaked into the ground because of negligence. The chemical has been linked to health risks, including cancer.

The city was awarded $859,000 from Shell Oil Co., $1.9 million from Chevron Corp. and $200,000 from Exxon Mobil Corp.

Shell and Chevron, which also supplied fuel to other locations, were found not liable on two other counts.

Oil company ConocoPhillips settled with the city in November for $1.25 million.

The oil companies had claimed they did nothing wrong by including MTBE in their gasoline, and that there was no evidence the chemical has harmed anyone in Merced.

City officials, on the other hand, maintained the oil companies needed to be held accountable.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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