Marathon settles Detroit explosion class-action suit

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Marathon Petroleum Co. has agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit stemming from a 2013 storage tank explosion, according to a court document and a law firm.

In December, Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon agreed to pay the two who filed the suit — Anna Widdis and Jason Bastien — $1,000 each and distribute $100 gas gift cards to the first 200 other plaintiffs in the class-action suit, according to Hertz Schram PC, the law firm with offices in Detroit and Bloomfield Hills that represented them.

The preliminary settlement awaits final approval by Ann Arbor U.S. District Judge Judith Levy of the Eastern District of Michigan, according to the Liddle & Dubin law firm.

Marathon also agreed to rebuild an above-ground storage tank for $1.4 million and modify another tank for an $650,000 as part of the settlement agreement. The company will pay $22,000 in attorney fees for class counsel and up to $11,000 for costs and expenses related to the administration of the settlement, notice and claims process.

The settlement is unrelated to a separate federal class-action lawsuit involving Marathon in which more plaintiffs claimed injuries due to harmful air pollution from the southwest Detroit refinery.

Marathon on Tuesday did not immediately return requests for comment.

In court, attorneys Elizabeth Thomson and Laura Sheets at Liddle & Dubin represented the plaintiffs, who lived in a neighborhood near the Marathon oil refinery in Detroit close to the Rouge River and the border with Melvindale. They alleged nuisance and negligence based on an explosion and fire on April 27, 2013, at the Marathon refinery that harmed the plaintiffs, including “loss and enjoyment of their property,” according to the agreement.

Marathon opposed the district court’s approval for class-action certification.

The company appealed in the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2014, but the appeal failed because there was “insufficient reason to proceed with Marathon’s appeal,” according to the settlement agreement.

In the suit, plaintiffs alleged that Marathon was negligent by “failing to design, monitor, or maintain the above-ground storage tank” that caught fire and exploded in April 2013. They allege the explosion interfered with their enjoyment and use of property, although Marathon at first “vigorously denie(d) any and all liability in this action,” according the settlement notice.

The plaintiffs agreed to drop claims of nuisance and loss of enjoyment of property and other personal injury due to “airborne pollution, emissions, releases, spills and discharges to the atmosphere, exposure to hazardous substances, air contaminants, toxic pollutants, particulates or odors emanating in the air from the Marathon refinery,” according to the agreement.

That includes any past or present damage from air pollution or contamination and any personal injury that manifested prior to the settlement agreement, but does not cover lasting, diagnosed medical injury.