California Gas Leak Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Lung Cancer Aggravation Claim

According to allegations in a recently filed wrongful death lawsuit, a recent California gas leak in Porter Ranch, which has caused methane and other gases to be released into the air for weeks, contributed to the death of a woman suffering from lung cancer. 

The complaint was filed on February 2 by the family of Zelda Rothman, 79, who lived near Aliso Canyon, where a Southern California Gas Company storage tank has been venting gas for several months.

Rothman suffered from lung cancer, according to the lawsuit, and the family indicates that the gases released by the leak exacerbated her breathing difficulties, hastening her death.

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The methane gas leak was discovered on October 23, at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch, which is run by the Southern California Gas Company, known as SoCalGas.

While officials say it is too dispersed to ignite, many area residents have reported feeling ill, suffering nosebleeds, and worry about long-term exposure effects of the natural gas leak, which some say may not be stopped for several months. Thousands of residents have been evacuated from the immediate area.

Without the ability to capture and burn off the gas, the company estimates that the leak may not be sealed until late February.

According to family and witnesses, Rothman began complaining about the smell sometime after the leak began, and then her health began to deteriorate. By Thanksgiving, the once active traveler was using a cane, and she began requiring oxygen by New Year’s. She was hospitalized shortly after that, but then returned home, where she died last week.

The wrongful death claim was filed the day after the company was hit with charges by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who joined a civil lawsuit filed by the city and county of Los Angeles.

The lawsuit accuses the company of violating state health and safety laws due to its failure to quickly bring the release under control and its failure to report the leak to authorities in a timely manner. The lawsuit indicates that SoCalGas threatened the environment by the release of more than 80,000 metric tons of methane, endangering the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The impact of this unprecedented gas leak is devastating to families in our state, our environment, and our efforts to combat global warming,” Harris said in a press release. “Southern California Gas Company must be held accountable.”

Gas Leak Lawsuits

In addition to the cost, potential fines, and possible criminal probe into the gas leak, SoCalGas also faces a growing number of legal claims by residents.

More than two dozen individual and class action lawsuits over the Porter Ranch gas leak have been filed, as well as a public nuisance complaint by the city of Los Angeles. The cases are under consideration for mass tort consolidation for pretrial proceedings in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Some attorneys estimate that thousands of lawsuits could ultimately be filed by residents, businesses, and local communities. The company may also face penalties and lawsuits from the federal government as well.

California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and the Transportation Department to get involved to ensure public safety and investigate how the leak occurred and whether the proper safety measures were in place.


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