La Brea residents lose negligence lawsuit against Petrotrin

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

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