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In 1986, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. discovered gasoline from a leaky underground pipeline floating on the groundwater beneath its terminal near Moundville, Ala. “Chevron sent out the gasoline for testing and found that it wasn’t theirs,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Robert F. Prince. Chevron contacted Plantation Pipe Line Co. to determine if the gasoline was coming from its pipelines. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) contacted Plantation as well. “Plantation dug eight monitoring wells and found gasoline in seven of them,” Prince said. In one, it “found three feet of gasoline floating on top of the groundwater,” he noted. ADEM ordered Plantation and Chevron to clean up the gasoline and determine the extent of the underground plume. “Chevron removed some of the gasoline, but Plantation did [virtually] nothing,” Prince said. “It bailed out 150 gallons of gas from the monitoring wells, far short of the 200,000 gallons it told the ADEM was underground.” The gasoline — 750,000 to 1 million gallons, by the plaintiffs’ estimate — ultimately migrated to land adjacent to Plantation’s pipelines owned by the family of Walter B. Chandler. In 1995, Chandler was digging an irrigation well on his small farm and struck gas. After Plantation denied that it had come from its pipes, Chandler, his son and a family trust sued Plantation and Chevron, charging that the gasoline damaged the value of their property. Chevron settled before trial for an undisclosed amount. Plantation claimed that it did not contaminate the property or that any contamination was “minor,” said defense attorney Stephen O’Day. But the plaintiffs used Plantation’s own documents regarding the monitoring wells to link its gas to the gas underneath the Chandler property, said Prince. On Oct. 3, a Greensboro, Ala., jury ordered Plantation to pay the plaintiffs $43.8 million, including $37 million in punitives. Plantation considers the verdict “excessive” and “not supported by the evidence” and will be filing motions to set aside or alter the jury’s judgment; if unsuccessful, it will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Robert F. Prince of Prince Patterson in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Charles (Ward) Pearson of Pearson & Smithhart in Tuscaloosa. Defense attorneys: Stephen O’Day of Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Atlanta and William Traeger of Manley, Traeger, Perry & Stapp in Demopolis, Ala.

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