Waste company sues insurer over chemical blast cleanup

Source: Ventura County Star (CA), January 7, 2015
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The owner of a Ventura County disposal plant shut down by a chemical blast in mid-November has sued its insurer, claiming Allied World Assurance Co. must cover damages up to $7 million.
In the suit filed late last month, Santa Clara Waste Water Co. says the Swiss insurer has steadfastly refused to pay claims resulting from an explosion and fire at the plant west of Santa Paula.
Allied World is objecting based on terms of the insurance coverage as well as reservations about the ongoing criminal probe of the company by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, the lawsuit says.
Costs of the cleanup and emergency response exceeded $4.5 million and were described as “ever mounting” in the lawsuit filed Dec. 23.
Also named as a defendant in the suit is 805 Trucking Inc., the Oxnard company that owns the truck that exploded.
The back of the truck exploded about 3:30 a.m. Nov. 18, injuring two workers, requiring treatment of dozens of people for potential exposure and leading to evacuations of nearby homes and businesses. Three Santa Paula firefighters who were sickened during the incident remain off duty.
The insurer is seeking company business records as part of its consideration of the claims, according to the lawsuit. Santa Clara officials say numerous documents were destroyed in a fire that followed the explosion and others were seized the next day by investigators from the District Attorney’s Office.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Harman has asked a judge to prevent the company from accessing or copying the records. He argued that possession will pose a “significant risk of ongoing criminal activity and that the business records are evidence of criminal conduct by the entity from which the records were seized.”
Harman said Tuesday that he could not elaborate on whether that meant evidence of criminal activity had been found. The company has never been presented with any specific documentation of the allegations, Santa Clara’s lawyers say in a response. No charges have been filed.
A hearing on Harman’s request is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. Friday before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Gilbert Romero.
Santa Clara officials say it is “difficult to fathom” how the company’s possession of its own records would constitute a risk.
The company doing the cleanup, Patriot Environmental Services, pledged to walk off the job if its outstanding bills were not paid in full, the lawsuit said. That possibility no longer appears to be in the offing and the cleanup is continuing as scheduled, said Rick Bandelin, hazardous materials manager for the county Environmental Health Division.
“Nothing has been slowed down,” he said.
No firm date has been set for reopening of the plant but the cleanup is expected to take a few more weeks. County planning officials have suspended the company’s permit to operate pending clearance of the site by county and federal regulators.
Another condition is that Oxnard officials must agree to begin accepting discharges from the waste company into the city’s sewer plant.
All parties in the lawsuit declined to comment on the litigation.
Officials for Santa Clara Waste Water declined to answer questions on the current cost of the cleanup. But they said they continue to work closely with Patriot and all regulating agencies to “fully clean and remediate the site in a timely and safe manner.”

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