Settlement Reached Between Baltimore Households and Exxon in Gas Station Leak Case Involving Claims for Medical Monitoring

Gasstation_tank_removal.jpgA group of households in Baltimore County, Maryland recently settled their lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. for property damage and other injuries allegedly resulting from a massive gasoline leak near their homes in 2006. Jury verdicts against the oil company totaled more than $1.6 billion, but the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the awards. In addition to property damage, the plaintiffs asserted causes of action for emotional distress due to fear of developing a disease and “medical monitoring.” This refers to the ongoing costs of monitoring for the onset of illness after exposure to toxic materials. Maryland courts have never recognized medical monitoring as a claim or remedy before, but the orders reversing the verdicts included explicit recognition of such a remedy.

An underground storage tank at a gas station in Jacksonville, Maryland allegedly leaked for about five weeks in 2006, pouring over 26,000 gallons of gasoline into the ground and contaminating the groundwater. Many of the homes in the area rely on wells for their water supply. Maryland’s Department of the Environment commenced monitoring about 248 private wells in the area. Exxon settled with the state for $4 million for cleanup costs in 2008.

Several hundred people and businesses filed suit against Exxon Mobil, claiming more than $1 billion in damages. A jury awarded about $150 million in damages to about ninety households in 2009 for property damage, emotional distress, and medical monitoring. Another jury trial in 2011 resulted in a $1.5 billion award to about 160 households and businesses, including about $495 million in compensatory damages for fraud, property damage, emotional distress, and medical monitoring; and $1 billion in punitive damages.

The Court of Special Appeals first considered whether or not to recognize a claim for medical monitoring. Exxon Mobil v. Ford (Ford I), 40 A.3d 514 (Md. 2012). It noted that Maryland’s highest court had never expressly recognized a cause of action for medical monitoring, having last considered the claim without reaching a conclusion in Philip Morris v. Angeletti, 752 A.2d 200, 251 (Md. Ct. App. 2000). It held that Maryland’s common law could allow a plaintiff “to recover damages for the quantifiable costs associated with medical tests and examinations” needed to detect “future diseases made more likely by the defendant’s tortious conduct.” Ford I, 40 A.3d at 552.

The Court of Appeals recognized medical monitoring a remedy under established tort law, although not as a separate cause of action. It also held that the plaintiffs did not make a case for such a remedy. Exxon Mobil v. Albright, No. 15, slip op. (Md. Ct. App., Feb. 26, 2013); Exxon Mobil v. Ford (Ford II), No. 16, slip op. (Md. Ct. App., Feb. 26, 2013). The court again reviewed the history of medical monitoring claims, and ruled that recovery under such a claim is permissible under narrow circumstances. Albright at 73. It identified a four-pronged test for determining eligibility for medical monitoring damages:
1. Significant exposure to known hazardous substances due to the defendant’s negligence;
2. Significant increase in risk of developing a “serious latent disease” because of the exposure;
3. Requirement of “periodic diagnostic medical examinations” because of that risk; and
4. Availability of procedures that “make the early treatment of the disease possible and beneficial.”

Id. at 77 n. 75; Ford II at 43; In re Paoli Railroad Yard PCB Litigation, 916 F.2d 829, 852 (3rd Cir. 1990).

Lebowitz & Mzhen’s personal injury attorneys are skilled at pursuing justice for people in Maryland who have been injured or lost loved ones due to the negligent or illegal conduct of others. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

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Data Suggest That Noneconomic Damage Caps Do Not Reduce the Cost of Healthcare, While Maryland Courts Continue to Affirm Their Constitutionality, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 7, 2014
Supreme Court Reviews Class Action Reform Law, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 21, 2013
Maryland Supreme Court Reconsiders Contributory Negligence Doctrine, Maryland Accident Law Blog, September 23, 2012
Photo credit: By Versageek (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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