A federal judge in southern New York ruled yesterday that a lawsuit filed by Fallston residents against Exxon Mobil Corp. for future and past contamination of their wells by the gasoline additive MTBE may proceed as a class action suit.
The order allows Fallston residents whose wells have been tainted by methyl tertiary-butyl ether and those whose wells have not shown levels of the additive but who may have been affected by declining property values to seek damages from Exxon Mobil and a former Exxon station that was at the intersection of routes 152 and 165.
The ruling by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin consolidates the claims by the Fallston residents into one case and allows them to collectively seek damages because their claims are based on the same legal theories, the judge said.
The class action suit will cover Fallston homeowners within 20 square miles of the contaminated area, according to the ruling.
The judge ruled that the residents who might want Exxon to reimburse them for the cost of medical testing to determine whether exposure to tainted water causes medical problems in the future could seek those damages. But the judge said those seeking reimbursement for medical testing couldn't be part of the class on those grounds alone.
"Everyone in Fallston is affected by the plume of contamination, either from a decline in property values or the risk of contamination," said Mary V. Koch, an attorney with Peter Angelos' law firm, which is representing Fallston area residents.
The firms of Angelos, Engel & Engel and Brower Piven will represent the plaintiffs in the case.
The lawyer for the owners of the former Exxon station had argued that definition of who could be considered part of the class was too vague. And lawyers for Exxon had also argued that the class was too large and that some of the Fallston residents might have unintentionally contaminated their own wells.
A lawyer for Exxon said yesterday he had not reviewed the opinion and could not comment.
The ruling could affect residents of the Jacksonville area of Baltimore County who filed suit against Exxon Mobil after last year's leak of 25,000 gallons of gasoline from an underground storage tank at an Exxon station at Paper Mill Road, Sweet Air Road and Jarrettsville Pike, Koch said.