Anderson v. PG&E
Erin Brockovich is the story of a woman who helped 650 people in Hinkley California get justice for the actions of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E.) The case was titled Anderson v. PG&E and was actually settled outside of court. It was settled in the Superior Court for the County of San Bernardino, Barstow Division. The parties agreed on a settlement of $333 million to be distributed to the named plaintiffs. It is difficult to find the exact facts, statements, and decision reasoning of the case because the information is not public record. The information has remained private.
It all started in 1952 when PG&E built a pumping station that spread over 20 acres in California that was used to pump natural gas through pipes to people across the state. They used a chemical called chromium XI to prevent the rusting of the pipes. The chemical runoff was disposed of in unlined wastewater ponds (Sharp, 2000). In 1987, during a routine check PG&E found that the chromium had leaked into the water supply and in December they reported their findings to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. The board then ordered PG&E to clean up the pollution. In the early 1990’s, PG&E undertook at $12.5 million clean up effort. This effort included approaching the owners of three farms and ten houses (Sharp, 2000).
For 15-20 years, people had been drinking, bathing, and swimming in water that had been polluted by the chemical chromium XI. Because of the exposure to this chemical many people began to experience physical ailments varying from small things such as bloody noses, to very serious conditions that include tumors and intestinal problems. After realizing that these conditions may have been caused by the chromium leak from PG&E, the residents of Hinkley, California decided to file suit against the gas and electric company.
36 claims were tried and over 650 people were involved. The plaintiff’s lawyers agreed on private arbitration, which took over two years. The plaintiff’s lawyers had to come up with a substantial amount of information to present that included proof of medical causation, dealing with missing evidence, reconstruct a complex hydro-geological water system, and prove the extent of PG&E’s inappropriate conduct (Bos). Eventually they reached a global settlement and all the named plaintiffs were compensated a combined total of $333 million. PG&E was also required to clean up the environment and ordered to stop using chromium XI (Bos).
This case can be studied as an example of ethics and negligence. It is a case study of how arbitration is rising and creating a legal system that favors people who have money over people that do not. Anderson v. PG&E can be used to examine conflicts of interest. The plaintiff’s lawyers agreed to private arbitration before a panel of for-hire judges who has been socializing with the attorney’s prior (Sharp, 2000). The main focus being on the fact that PG&E did not take the required steps once they found the chromium leak. The residents should have been informed and steps should have been taken to begin a complete clean up of the mess. PG&E did not inform the public of the situation that ended up causing injury. This was not proper ethics for the company, thus costing them $333 million dollars.
The main issue involved in the case of Anderson v. PG&E is negligence. With this argument follows duty of care, reasonable person standard, and damages. All of these are core concepts when reviewing this particular case. These notions are what most likely caused the court to grant the plaintiffs with the settlement.
Negligence is the failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances (p.113, Miller). A tort of negligence is caused when someone has suffered from an injury because of someone...