Illinois Mass Tort Class Action $120 Million Verdict Against Oil Refinery Reinstated by Illinois Appellate Court

Blue Island, Illinois residents rejoiced on word that the 1st District Appellate Court reinstated a $120 million class action verdict. The Illinois class action lawsuit was prompted when Blue Island residents complained that the refinery was responsible for years of air pollution and other forms of contamination.

The refinery in question changed hands several times over the course of the years in question. It was first operated by Clark Oil & Refining Corporation, which became Clark Refining & Marketing, Inc. who then became Premcor and then finally Valero Energy Corporation. Valero is the present owner and maintains that it did not own the plant at the time the refinery was held responsible for the damages to the residents.

In November, 2005, a Cook County jury awarded the class of plaintiffs $80 million in compensatory damages and $40 million additional in punitive damages. But about a year after the entry of the verdict, the trial judge, Cheryl A. Starks, entertained the defendant’s post-trial motion to decertify the class and vacate the damage awards. The Appellate Court considered only the issue of whether or not Judge Starks had the authority to decertify the class- they ruled that she did not.

“Acting without changed circumstances and after a decision on the merits, the trial court simply lacked the statutory authority to issue the order that it did,” wrote Justice Robert E. Gordon. “As a result, this court must vacate the decertification order.”

Valero will continue to challenge the ruling that it believes was improper and will seek leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. It’s still to be contested as to whether the plaintiffs make up a proper class, the issue being that the plaintiffs didn’t allocate damages among the class. In any class action suit the plaintiff is responsible for delineating between the various parties and establishing a method of grouping them within the class. This was allegedly not done in this case.

Additionally, there remains a defendant argument that there is no basis for the jury verdict in that there is no discernible way to account for the many and varied complaints of harm from the different citizens that make up the class, such as complaints of skin/eye irritation or respiratory issues.

There was some agreement between the parties that it was improper to decertify a class after verdict or judgment or after the case had been decided on the merits. The Starks’ decision to grant a new trial based on the decertification of the class was also vacated. Priscilla Rosolowski v. Clark Refining & Marketing, Inc., No. 1-07-0048.

Kreisman Law Offices handles a wide array of Illinois personal injury, Illinois product liability cases and Illinois medical malpractice cases for individuals in the entire Cook County area, including Blue Island, Oak Park, Deer Park, and Hoffman Estates.

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