Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Class action lawsuit over fumes from paper mill

The Georgia Court of Appeals found that a group of property owners claiming hydrogen sulfide gas emissions from a paper mill had damaged their property had demonstrated sufficient commonality to warrant class certification.

The certified class included the owners of 34 residential properties and 33 parcels zoned for industrial, agricultural and other uses in an area around the mill, who brought nuisance, negligence, and trespass claims alleging injuries from hydrogen sulfide fumes released by the mill.

Lower property values and health issues because of fumes
were cited at the class certification hearing
At the class certification hearing, plaintiffs presented testimony from the mill’s environmental manager that the noxious fumes could be detected within a four-mile radius of the mill. G

In addition, plaintiffs also offered the affidavit of a real estate appraiser who testified that the fumes would decrease the market value of the residents’ properties. The trial court issued an order certifying the class, and the Defendants appealed.

Among other arguments, defendants claimed that plaintiffs failed to establish the “commonality” element necessary for class certification because individual landowners were affected in different ways and sustained varying amounts of harm.

In affirming the lower court’s decision, the Georgia high court ruled 4-3 that a number of issues were common to the class, including issues surrounding defendant Georgia-Pacific’s operation of the mill, its implementation of safety programs, as well as the overall effects of the noxious emissions on landowners.

Three dissenting judges raised common injury and damages concerns, noting that the plaintiffs had alleged a variety of medical issues and property damages.

Also, the dissenters warned “significant trial time would be devoted to determining separate issues of liability,” because the plaintiffs had not presented sufficient evidence that the fumes actually affected a majority of the homes in the class area or adequate proof that the fumes were the proximate cause of the alleged property damage.

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