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Upper Cross Roads residents whose home wells were contaminated by gasoline leaking from a nearby Exxon gas station in 2004 will have to wait a little longer to see whether their lawsuit against the oil giant will move forward as a class-action case.

On Monday, lawyers and plaintiffs attended a class action status hearing in which Harford County Circuit Court. Judge William Carr said he would issue a decision at a later date.

Theodore M. Flerlage Jr., of the Law Offices of Peter Angelos in Baltimore, represented more than 200 families whose wells were contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE.

“A lot of clients showed up,” Flerlage said. “There was a lot interest in the Fallston and Baldwin areas.”

There have been a number of lawsuits filed in conjunction with MTBE migrating from an Exxon station at Routes 152 and 165 that has since closed and been dismantled. Some suits were filled locally. A class action was originally filed in New York federal court, but was later returned to Harford County.

According to Flerlage, many of his firm’s clients attended Monday’s hearing in Bel Air to “see anything official happen.”

“Everything’s been happening in New York,” Flerlage said. “This was the first opportunity people had to hopefully see justice at work.”

A class action has advantages and disadvantages for plaintiffs and defendants alike, though it’s typically favored more by plaintiffs because it consolidates many individual claims into one and thus moves them through the legal process faster.

While no testimony was taken Monday, both sides had the opportunity to present their arguments, Flerlage said.

“There’s no better situation for class action,” Flerlage said. “It’s totally appropriate for class action. It would simplify the proceedings and make it easy for the jury to make determinations in something as large as this.”

If the case proceeds as a class-action, the judge would have to sign an order, but his finding could be appealed.

“We follow the orders required,” Flerlage said. “We’re required to give some sort of notification to the entire class area to become plaintiffs or opt out if they want to. If they’re in the class area anyway, they’re affected by the discharge of gasoline and MTBE. If they don’t opt out, they’re considered class members.”

Those who opted out could file suits on their own, as some have already done.

Flerlage said lawyers for Exxon argued to have individual cases tried in federal court.

“It’s the same lawsuit essentially, individual plaintiffs would be listed on the caption of the lawsuit,” Flerlage said. “To save time, we’d tie them all together as opposed to individual trials.”

A Baltimore County jury recently awarded more than $150 million to 90 families in the Eastern Baltimore County community of Jacksonville whose wells were contaminated by leaking gasoline from an Exxon station.

If the judge rules in favor of the Fallston plaintiffs, the suit would enter a trail phase. Exxon could request a jury trial, as it did in the Jacksonville case, or have a judge hear it.

Plaintiffs normally seek compensatory damages for injury to themselves, their families and their property, as well as restoration costs, such as clean up the aquifer and ground water, compensation for loss of property value and medical monitoring for people to “make sure they’re not developing some disease associated with exposure,” Flerlage said.

“Punitive damages would be requested,” Flerlage said. “We have to wait for the authority of the court to take the next step. We’ll take appropriate steps consistent with that order.”

Representatives from Exxon did not return phone calls.


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