U.S. Water News Online
SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court has blocked a
class-action lawsuit on behalf of 800 Redlands residents who claim
they were exposed to toxic chemicals in their drinking water.
Residents of the city 70 miles east of Los Angeles have sued
Lockheed Martin Corp., alleging drinking water laced with a rocket
fuel ingredient has caused a litany of cancers and other illnesses.
The plaintiffs also want Lockheed to pay for monitoring the health of
The justices, ruling 5-2, said the cases cannot be consolidated as
a class action. The court said residents may sue on an individual
basis to allow each plaintiff to prove damages or require health
monitoring for illnesses that may occur in the future.
Class actions, the court said, are only allowed when those suing
have similar claims.
In this case, the justices said the only way to determine if a
plaintiff has been injured is for that plaintiff to sue on his or her
own. Each plaintiff, the court said, could have different claims and
probably have been subjected to varied amounts of pollution.
``The questions respecting each individual class member's right to
recover ... following any class judgment appear so numerous and
substantial as to render any efficiencies attainable through a joint
trial of common issues insufficient,'' Justice Kathryn Mickle
The court did not address the merits of the accusations. Lockheed
denies them. California has ordered Lockheed to clean up the
The plaintiffs allege perchlorate, a rocket fuel ingredient, has
seeped into drinking water from a former Lockheed rocket engine
testing facility, and has sickened residents.
Perchlorate interferes with how the body brings iodide into the
thyroid and can disrupt how the gland regulates metabolism. It isn't
known how much perchlorate is dangerous.
Perchlorate became a widespread concern in 1997, when scientists
learned to detect it in even minute concentrations in groundwater.
It is unclear whether the high court's opinion will impact similar
lawsuits. That is because the court, ruling 4-3 in the Redlands case,
said that class actions in such cases are not always barred.
The most recent case seeking class-action status was filed last
month, when homeowners in an unincorporated area near San Jose sued.
They alleged that a former highway flare operation in Morgan Hill
contaminated their drinking water wells with perchlorate.
The recently-decided case is Lockheed Martin Corp. v. San
Bernardino Superior Court, S088548.
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