Citizens of Porter Ranch in Los Angeles County may soon find themselves embroiled in mass litigation with the Southern California Gas Company. The community has been inundated by natural gas caused by a massive leak from an underground pipe at the Alison Canyon gas storage facility owned by the Company. To put the size of the leak in perspective, it accounts for 25% of all methane emissions in the State of California.
The health effects of significant methane exposure are not totally clear, but nosebleeds, nausea, and dizziness and headaches may be caused by an additive used to make the otherwise odorless gas smell. Hundreds of homeowners have asked the Company to be placed in temporary housing because of the noxious odor. Many others have complained the gas is causing sickness. There does not appear to be a solid plan to fix the pipe. Authorities estimated repairs could be take a month or longer.
Incidents such as this often make people think “class action” because of the sheer number of people involved. However, a court will not necessarily certify a class of this nature. Oftentimes when the effects of such catastrophic events cause injuries that vary greatly in severity, nature, and duration, courts will rule the case is inappropriate for a class action.
Some will recall the San Diego wildfires in 2007 that were caused, in part, by poorly maintained power lines owned by San Diego Gas and Electric. Although literally thousands of residents were involved, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request for class certification because the degree to which the fire harmed residents varied so greatly.
If a law firm attempts a class action, and the court denies class certification, the court will have to manage potentially thousands of individual claims. Although this is quite difficult, it is not impossible. The best course of action for the Southern California Gas Company at this point would be to informally settle as many claims as possible before litigation begins