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Group settles with Exxon in Jacksonville leak case

Nearly eight years after a 25,000-plus-gallon gas station leak in Jacksonville, a group of affected households have settled their lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp.

The approximately 20 households represented by The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos PC were scheduled to have their cases retried beginning Monday in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Terms of the settlements are confidential, according to Theodore M. Flerlage Jr., the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer.

The 20 households are part of a larger group represented by the Angelos firm that was awarded more than $1.5 billion in damages in June 2011 following a six-month jury trial. The award, which included $1 billion in punitive damages, was struck down by the Court of Appeals last February. The U.S. Supreme Court let the decision stand in November, declining to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal.

The state’s top court ordered new trials on property damages for homeowners whose property showed actual contamination. The remaining Angelos plaintiffs, known as the Allison group at trial and the Albright group on appeal, will have their retrials starting Jan. 27.

The plaintiffs have been divided into eight groups of approximately 10 households per group, and Judge Susan Souder has scheduled a week-long trial for each group, according to Flerlage.

A spokesman for Exxon would not confirm the settlements.

“We have apologized to the Jacksonville community and we remain ready to compensate those who were truly damaged by this unfortunate accident,” the company said in a statement.

The company reached a $4 million settlement related to the spill with the Maryland Department of the Environment in September 2008. The company has said it has spent 10 times that amount on the cleanup effort under MDE’s direction.

The gas station leak from underground tanks began Jan. 13, 2006. An alarm sounded that day, but the leak was not discovered for another five weeks, when an inventory discrepancy was noticed. Exxon has maintained that technicians responding to the station on the first day of the leak improperly reset the detector, essentially rendering it incapable of sounding the alarm again.

The spill prompted multiple lawsuits by Jacksonville residents against Exxon.

The first lawsuit that went to trial resulted in a $150 million jury verdict in March 2009 for 88 families known at trial as the Alban group and on appeal as the Ford group.

The plaintiffs in both cases were awarded compensatory damages for diminution of property value, emotional distress caused by fear of cancer, medical monitoring, and past loss of use and enjoyment, among other claims.

The Court of Special Appeals in February 2012 slashed the Ford group’s verdict to about $60 million in property damages in a 321-page opinion written only after three recusals and an en banc hearing by the nine remaining judges.

The Court of Appeals then agreed in May 2012 to hear both Exxon cases without the Albright group’s case being heard in the Court of Special Appeals.

No trial dates have been scheduled for plaintiffs in the Ford group.

Stephen L. Snyder of Snyder & Snyder in Pikesville, the Ford group’s lead lawyer, declined to comment on the status of his clients’ cases.

The Angelos firm also represents a third group of plaintiffs who filed their mass-action lawsuit in August 2009. The Allen group consists of approximately 140 plaintiff households whose cases will be heard following the Albright trials, according to Flerlage.

The Allen plaintiffs will also be grouped for trial but are not subject to the same Court of Appeals ruling as the Albright plaintiffs, according to Flerlage.