Tevis Oil found responsible for MTBE leak

Carroll jury awards four families nearly $400,000 in damages

April 22, 2010|By Brent Jones, The Baltimore Sun

A Carroll County jury found a local oil company responsible for polluting wells with a hazardous gasoline additive and awarded four Finksburg families $395,000 in damages, according to court records and lawyers for the case.

The six-person jury in the class action lawsuit reached the verdict Wednesday after three days of deliberations. Clifford Keffer, the named plaintiff whose house was closest to a Tevis Oil-owned Jiffy Mart gas station that emitted methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, was awarded $230,000. Three other families will split the rest of the money.

Keffer, a resident of the 2000 block of Suffolk Road, filed the suit five years ago and testified during the trial that he has had to use bottled water at his residence since 2003, after MTBE was discovered in his well.

MTBE is a suspected carcinogen whose effects on drinking water have not been determined. The chemical makes gasoline burn more cleanly, but several studies have shown it to cause cancer in laboratory rats.

The Maryland Department of the Environment identified the Jiffy Mart station, at the corner of Suffolk Road and Route 140, as the source of pollution. Lawyers for Tevis argued during the three-week trial that there was no spill or leak discovered, and that the additive originated from a neighboring junkyard.

Bruce Hill, a lawyer for the plaintiff, had asked the jury for a minimum of $1.5 million during his closing arguments last week. The jury, however, declined to award money to any of the plaintiffs for future medical expenses.

Tevis lawyer Howard Goldberg said he will appeal the decision, insisting in an interview after the verdict there was no evidence that a leak or spill from the gas station into the groundwater caused the infiltration in the wells.

Hill argued that the chemical escaped as liquid and vapor.

The award was one of the lowest involving an MTBE case in the country, according to defense attorneys. Goldberg said he doesn't know why the plaintiffs were awarded any money, and that the relatively small sum was given more "out of sympathy."

Hill did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The plaintiffs all live in Carroll County Trails, a middle-class development off Route 140. Neil and Betty Patrick of the 2000 block of Suffolk Road received $75,000; John and Christina McGann of the 1900 block of Welsh Court received about $50,000; and Constance Kelmartin of the 1900 block of Welsh Court received $40,000, according to the lawyers.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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