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Court Recognizes "Shelter In Place" As A Cause Of Action
February 28, 2003

I have long advocated that the cost and inconvenience placed on thousands of people forced to stop productive activity and "shelter in place" when industrial accidents trigger warning sirens should be compensated by those causing the alert.

In fact, exactly one year ago, I introduced an ordinance that would do just that. See   http://www.tombutt.com/forum/020210.htm. It did not, unfortunately, receive sufficient support from the City Council to move forward.

Now, the California Court of Appeals has given new credibility to the theory that causing people to "shelter in place" is not only an actionable damage but also that it can be the subject of a class action suit. The article below appeared in the February 26, 2003, Contra Costa Times.

Class-action possible over 1999 explosion, court rules
By Jose A. Lopez

CONTRA COSTA TIMES SAN FRANCISCO - Reversing the ruling of a lower court, a state court of appeals ruled this week that people forced to shelter in place after an explosion at Chevron's Richmond Refinery in 1999 can pursue a class action lawsuit against the oil company.

The litigation stems from an explosion and fire at the refinery on March 25, 1999. In the aftermath of the explosion, thousands of people in Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Pinole and surrounding areas were forced to take shelter inside their homes or office buildings for about three hours.

Some of those who were in the area at the time of the incident sued Chevron, alleging the sheltering caused them inconvenience and annoyance, and prevented them from enjoying their legal rights.

A Superior Court judge in San Francisco denied class certification in August 2001, ruling that the type of damages sought could not be considered in a single class-action suit because of the diverse nature of the damages alleged.

The lower court ruled that the damages alleged were "made up of annoyance, inconvenience, anxiety and just plain bother," and that claims of emotional distress -- because they vary from person to person -- could not be the subject of a class action lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal reversed that ruling 2-1.

In the majority opinion, the court wrote that the superior court's decision was based on faulty reasoning "that presumed emotional distress and inconvenience are always one-in-the same."