In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (“MTBE”) Products Liability Litigation

725 F.3d 65 (2013)

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In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (“MTBE”) Products Liability Litigation

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
725 F.3d 65 (2013)

  • Written by Tammy Boggs, JD

Facts

From the 1980s through about 2005, Exxon Mobil Corporation and related entities (collectively, Exxon) (defendants) added an organic chemical compound, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), to gasoline. During the same timeframe, Exxon operated or controlled gasoline stations in Queens, New York. Various gasoline spills and leaks occurred at the gas stations due to employee carelessness or improper storage. At one station, for example, a tank was found leaking, and upon further investigation, six 550-gallon storage tanks were found buried under the station. The station owner was unaware of the existence of the six tanks, which were unregistered and apparently unmonitored. A test of the groundwater beneath the station registered an MTBE concentration of 30 times the state-set maximum contaminant level. The spillage and leakage of MTBE-treated gasoline was being released into the ground and contaminating groundwater, including a system of water wells in Queens known as the Station Six Wells. Exxon did not implement any prevention or mitigation measures at its gas stations, such as a vapor-monitoring system that would have allowed for faster leak detection. Instead, Exxon employees relied on smelling gasoline leaks, which was of questionable effectiveness for leaks from underground storage tanks. The City of New York and related state agencies (collectively, the city) (plaintiffs) wanted to use the Station Six Wells to provide water to city residents in the future. The city sued Exxon under various legal theories, seeking to recover for harm to the city water, including the cost to treat the water for removal of MTBE. Following a trial, a jury found Exxon liable for negligence and trespass. Exxon appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Carney, J.)

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