An oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach has resulted in an array of losses for local residents, businesses and local governments, who are increasingly looking to fight back in court to hold accountable those who are responsible.

OC Oil Spill

Latest Figures
  • Authorities now estimate a spill size range between 25,000 gallons to a maximum of 131,000 gallons
  • 5,544 gallons of oily water retrieved
  • Approximately 172,500 pounds of oily debris has been recovered from shorelines
  • 14,060 feet of boom laid to try to curb oil spread
  • More than 900 people on the ground in cleanup effort
Contacts
  • General questions: 714-374-1702
  • Do not approach affected wildlife, call in a report: 877-823-6926
  • Assist with animals: 714-374-5587
  • Help with cleanups: 714-374-1702
  • File a claim: 866-985-8366

A rising tide of lawsuits have already taken off as a result of the spill, a tide that many experts expect to become a Tsunami. 

People have been reaching out to a series of local law firms asking what their rights are under the damages from the oil spill.

“We’ve been contacted by a number of substantial people in businesses regarding their rights under the damages they have sustained and will sustain because of the oil spill,” said Wylie Aitken, a founding partner of the Aitken, Aitken and Cohn law firm and Board of Directors Chair for the Voice of OC.

Two types of lawsuits are expected to be filed: a mass action tort as well as class action lawsuits.

A mass action tort is made up of individual cases on the same incident rolled up into one case to be handled in one court where a judge will make a determination on the damages sustained. 

Class action lawsuits are for people who have suffered damage but not sufficient enough to have their own case. Homeowners, landowners, business owners and fishermen could all be suffering losses and potentially pursue this type of litigation.

​​In these kinds of disasters it is rare that just one party gets sued, oftentimes multiple entities are taken to court, said Aitken, a prominent local trial attorney who worked on the Toyota class action litigation in 2013.

There are open questions whether Amplify Energy, the firm that operates the pipeline that was damaged and has leaked oil, has the financial resources to deal with so many claims and lawsuits that may be filed against the company. Today, at a 1p.m. press conference at a unified command center where Amplify is represented alongside agencies like the Coast Guard, Amplify CEO Martyn Willshirer told reporters the company would be able to address its responsibilities.

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County Supervisor Katrina Foley said in a text message Tuesday evening the board of supervisors are exploring litigation options but have not filed a lawsuit at this time over the oil spill.

Tonight, Huntington Beach officials met behind closed doors to discuss what legal actions, if any, to take regarding the spill and the impacts it has had on the city and its residents.

“The council voted unanimously with Council Members (Mike) Posey and (Rhonda) Bolton absent to authorize me and my office to pursue litigation to protect the city’s interests in the matter,” said City Attorney Michael Gates at the meeting.

Huntington Beach — a city that depends heavily on its tourism and recreation — has had to close their beaches due to the spill.  It also cancelled the airshow.

There is no set timeframe on when the beaches will reopen, with Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr saying she’s heard “a few weeks to a few months.” No one from the task force has commented on when beaches will reopen or how long the recovery effort will take. 

Tourism and recreation is the largest of the state’s ocean dependent sectors and also substantially impacts the national economy, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If city officials decide to take legal action they wouldn’t be the first party to do so.

The Milberg law firm filed a federal class action lawsuit against the operators of the pipeline — Amplify Energy and their Beta Offshore Division on Monday.

They have filed the lawsuit on behalf of Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., a Huntington Beach resident and the owner of a DJ company which performs at events on the beach front, as well as others.

“Countless fines are in place as Milberg represents not only homeowners, but business owners whose livelihood depends on Huntington Beach, including Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., a California DJ claiming that he will lose a “substantial amount” of his business so long as the beach remains closed,” reads the firm’s webpage on the lawsuit.

~ Read the complaint here ~

The firm is calling on anyone impacted by the oil spill catastrophe to contact them.

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Meanwhile the District Attorney’s office is studying any possible charges against Amplify Energy, saying “nothing is off the table yet.” District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s jurisdiction ends three miles out from the coast, so the final location of the pipeline will shape what cases his office is able to prosecute.

No matter where the leak is, Spitzer said he will be pursuing charges related to the damage to wildlife along the coast and the impacts at the shoreline.

[Read: OC District Attorney: Amplify Energy Should Not Investigate Its Own Oil Leak]

Some county residents like KC Fockler, who sits on Huntington Beach’s Environmental Board, are calling for a ban on new offshore drilling because of the economical and environmental impacts.

“Offshore drilling is polluting activity that puts our coastal economies, communities and natural resources at risk. The impacts from routine operations and inevitable oil spills would significantly harm our ocean recreation and tourism economy,” Fockler said at a Huntington Beach City Council meeting Monday.

Chi said at the meeting there were already people who have suffered economic losses from the spill that caused the cancellation of the air show.

“We’ve heard everything from hotels seeing reservations being canceled to businesses being impacted from what they were hoping was going to be an incredibly busy Sunday with the air show in town,” he said.

Businesses have already suffered economic losses due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Chi said there is a hotline set up for people who have lost money because of the spill and they can call 866-985-8366 and make a claim.

At the meeting, city council members declared the oil spill a state of emergency with hopes that such a declaration would help get state and federal resources to address the impacts of the spill.

“We want to make sure that our businesses are made whole, our wetlands are made whole and our economy is made whole and that we come roaring back to be the tourist destination ecological wonder — that we have two great wetlands in our city and that our local businesses are taken care of,” said Councilman Dan Kalmick at Monday’s meeting.

The Orange County oil spill was first widely reported Saturday, Oct. 2. Questions remain around how and when the spill started.

Officials say they have shut down the pipeline and no more oil is leaking.

The cleanup is being handled by a task force led by the US Coast Guard, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Amplify Energy, the operator of the burst pipeline. The cities of Long Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach are assisting. 

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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