SUPERIOR, Wis. — A proposed class-action settlement could make evacuees of the April 26, 2018, Husky Energy refinery explosion eligible to receive $150 in compensation.
According to the settlement agreement dated June 24, the plaintiffs, Jasen Bruzek, Hope Koplin and Christopher Peterson, and defendant Superior Refining Co. agreed to a settlement totaling $1.05 million, which is pending approval by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.
Much of Superior, Wis., was forced to evacuate for 18 hours when an explosion, likely caused by a faulty valve, caused a fire at the refinery. The evacuations were based on the fear of a hydrogen fluoride release, though none escaped the tank.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit the plaintiffs filed in 2018, claiming that while Husky allowed evacuees to file claims for evacuation expenses — transportation, lodging and lost wages — as well as separate claims for bodily harm, the reimbursements were “skewed” to people who could afford the up-front costs of a hotel room.
Court documents estimate nearly 21,000 people over 18 are eligible to file a claim, but the settlement funds would only be able to fulfill 5,833 claims at $150 per person. A household would be eligible for up to $300. Under certain circumstances, individuals may receive up to $200 and households up to $400.
The documents show the settlement money would be split three ways:
- $875,000 would go toward individual claims;
- a maximum of $169,000 would be used for administrative and notice costs, including mailers and advertisements;
- and $6,000 would be awarded to the three class representatives — the people who originally filed the lawsuit.
If there are leftover funds, up to $75,000 would be paid to the Superior Douglas County Family YMCA.
The case had been headed for a trial and approval of the settlement would prevent that.
The plaintiffs also accused the refinery of displaying negligence and cited preliminary reports from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board as evidence the refinery failed to maintain equipment and that led to the blast.
While J. Gordon Rudd Jr., the attorney for the plaintiffs, maintained the case was “meritorious,” he acknowledged it could be difficult to prove in trial as the court said the “Class Representatives may need to obtain individualized evidence of causation and damages.”
“Such a process would increase the possibility that class members may not participate due to the burden of trial compared to the relatively small individual awards or that class members who do participate lack sufficient evidence of their losses,” attorneys wrote.
The refinery said it will “fully support” the settlement though it does not agree with the plaintiffs' characterization of the case’s facts and procedural history.
“(Superior Refining Company) refutes that it was negligent or that its actions caused the explosion, and would vigorously defend itself throughout the remainder of this litigation,” the company said. “Indeed, the only so-called ‘evidence’ of negligence that plaintiffs could point to in the complaint was the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s report, which does not prove negligence and is not admissible at trial.”
In the original complaint filed in August 2018, one evacuee said he was unable to afford a hotel and spent the night in Canal Park with his family, while another plaintiff said his children’s school was canceled the next day, forcing his wife to miss work and lose wages, the complaint said.
The complaint also said one plaintiff’s mother was in hospice and had to be evacuated, after which “she was no longer eating or talking and her health quickly deteriorated.” She died May 3, 2018.