For anyone who saw the flames, smelled the smoke, and heard the noise firsthand, it still seems like yesterday. The Chevron refinery explosion in Richmond was almost one year ago. Today, the plant is apparently none-the-worse for wear and neither are the lawyers.
"It's a lawsuit that seeks compensation for the legal harm to the general public as well as to the assets and resources of the city of Richmond," attorney Frank Pitre said.
It began with a diesel leak in the refinery's Number 4 Unit, spewing a cloud over the city and much of Contra Costa County. Thousands of people sheltered-in-place later, many of them including David Lamar Gray, filed claims.
"Smoke inhalation, fumes, runny nose, scratchy throat, coughing, phlegm," he said, describing his experience. He told ABC7 News that what Chevron offered him was confidential, but admitted it was not enough.
After that and many other disappointments, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin spoke about the suit that runs 39 pages citing negligence and liability. It is heavy on principle. "We want the health and safety of our community guaranteed," she said.
Richmond's lawsuit does not begin and end with the explosion and fire last August. It cites 14 incidents since 1989 – what it describes as Chevron's record of safety violations and disregard for public welfare. "It's a first step toward accountability," Pitre said.
Chevron would not take questions on camera Friday, but in statement the company said, in part, "The city's meritless lawsuit is a waste of its own resources and yet another example of its failed leadership. We will vigorously defend the action."
"It is Chevron that has failed us. They have failed us by way of the plume traveling across the Bay Area, the corroded pipe," McLaughlin said.
At this time, the suit does not ask for a specific amount of money. It says that will come later, after investigation and discovery.