Seafood interests receive class-action status in suit over California oil spill

Published on
September 27, 2017

Fishermen and others in the seafood industry who were affected by a 2015 oil spill off the California coast are eligible to join a class-action federal lawsuit against the company responsible for the incident.

Written notice to seafood workers and businesses identified as impacted have been sent out, according to lawyers with Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein LP. The notice provides details on the rights of plaintiffs in the class as well as information for those who wish to opt out of the case. Those seeking to be excluded must decide by 27 October and can do so online at

On 19 May 2015, an underground pipeline ruptured and released about 140,000 gallons of heavy crude oil that spread across the water, beaches and land near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. Subsequently, state fish and wildlife officials imposed a ban on fishing in a nearly 140-square-mile area around the beach as hundreds of birds, marine mammals, and other sea life were killed.

Nearly a year after the spill, a grand jury indicted Plains All American Pipeline, the company which owned the line, and an employee on 46 charges stemming from the spill and its aftermath. 

The class covers fishermen, seafood businesses, and anyone who purchased fish from commercial interests who fished in the impacted area, according to Lieff Cabraser.

“The purpose of this lawsuit is to compensate local fisherman, businesses, and other victims, and to hold Plains accountable for all the harm it has wrought on the Santa Barbara community,” said Robert Nelson, a partner in Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office and one of four lead counsel appointed by U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez.

In a May 2016 statement after the indictment, Plains officials said they regretted what they called an accidental release and would work with businesses and others affected to clean up the spill and compensate for losses. The company also said it would share lessons learned from the spill with other pipeline companies to help avoid similar incidents in the future. 

The ruptured line has not been in operation since the spill. However, the company has sought permission to build a new line that would replace it. Environmentalists have opposed those efforts, citing the Refugio spill as one of about 240 incidents the company has had since 2006. 

“Letting this spill-prone company rebuild its oil pipelines would be a recipe for another disaster,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program for the Center for Biological Diversity.

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