Almost 100 residents of La Brea who were affected by an oil spill in December 2013, have lost their multi-million dollar negligence lawsuit against now-defunct Petrotrin.
Delivering an oral ruling at the end of a brief procedural appeal at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judge Charmaine Pemberton upheld the decision of a High Court judge who had previously dismissed the residents’ claim.
Both judges agreed that the claim could not stand as it was filed on their behalf by La Brea Environs Protectors—a special purpose company created by them.
Presenting submissions on the company’s behalf, attorney Colvin Blazie claimed that the company was used as for convenience in filing the claim on behalf of the residents, who all claim to have suffered negative health effects following the oil spill. He also noted that its registered office was within the area affected.
His claims were also challenged by Petrotrin’s lawyers and those for the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, which was also listed as a defendant to the claim.
The agency’s attorney Ravi Nanga pointed out that his client could not be held liable as the company could not prove that it was affected by its alleged failure to ensure that Petrotrin provided safety equipment to residents, it hired to help contain the environmental disaster.
Nanga also noted that beyond claiming that they suffered “blackouts”, nausea and diarrhoea following the oil spill, the residents did not provide further medical reports over possible long-term health effects.
While Archie and Pemberton agreed that the case could not stand in its present form, they still attempted to empathise with some of the residents, who were present for the hearing.
“It is not that we are unsympathetic to the plight of the people who might have suffered stress. We are rule-bound and in the circumstances, I am afraid you can not succeed,” Archie said, as he suggested that they consider refiling the case individually.
In their lawsuit, the residents claimed Petrotrin acted negligently by using the chemical Corexit 9500 in its clean-up activities. The oil dispersant has been banned by several international countries since 1988.
They also contended that Petrotrin hired residents to clean Coffee Beach, Point Sable and Vessigny Beach without providing proper safety equipment.
In November last year, State-owned Petrotrin was restructured with its loss-making refinery operations being shut down. The company’s exploration and fuel distribution operations have since been vested in two new companies- Heritage Petroleum Company Limited and Paria Fuel Trading Company.
The residents’ company was also represented by Farai Hove Masaisai, while Russell Martineau led Petrotrin’s legal team.
Reporter: Derek Achong