Assumption sinkhole lawsuits now total eight filed so far

Lawyers working with environmental activist Erin Brockovich filed a lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of residents and businesses under evacuation orders for more than nine months as a result of the Assumption Parish sinkhole.

Also, Pontchartrain Natural Gas System, K/D/S Promix LLC and Acadian Gas Pipeline System — three pipeline or gas storage subsidiaries of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP — separately have sued for damages over the sinkhole.

The now 15.1-acre hole shut pipelines and forced gas storage cavern operators in the Napoleonville Dome last year to remove their products as a safety precaution.

Acadian runs an intrastate pipeline system in Louisiana and is now planning to reroute its shut line near the sinkhole.

Both were filed Thursday in the 23rd Judicial District Court in Assumption. The suits accuse Texas Brine Co. of negligence in the design and operation of a failed salt dome cavern suspected of causing the sinkhole to emerge last August.

The suit tied to Brockovich also accuses Texas Brine and the two other named defendants, Miller Engineers and Associates and Occidental Chemical Corp., of fraud by concealing information about the cavern’s integrity since at least 2010 “in order to escape responsibility for any damages arising therefrom.”

The pipeline and gas storage companies’ suit does not accuse Texas Brine — the only defendant in that suit — of fraud, but claims the company did not “take necessary actions to mitigate the danger” or “timely and adequately warn the public” of the risks posed by the cavern.

Though Texas Brine has not responded formally to either suit, company officials have said they followed rules in informing state regulators about their cavern and in shutting it down in mid-2011 and had no reason to think it would suffer such an unprecedented failure.

Sonny Cranch, spokesman for Houston-based Texas Brine, said Tuesday the company would review the new suits and respond appropriately.

Scientists think the Texas Brine salt dome cavern failed after it was mined too close to the salt deposit’s outer face, allowing rock and sediment to flow into the broken cavern.

This shift of earth triggered a subterranean chain of events that led to the surface sinkhole, the release of oil and gas from deep underground and the evacuation order covering 350 people in the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou areas.

The suits are the seventh and eighth filed in state or federal courts in connection with the sinkhole. All name Texas Brine Co. as a defendant. Both new suits seek a jury trial.

The suit filed by lawyers working with Brockovich names 57 individual plaintiffs and three businesses and notes many evacuated residents “find themselves trapped in campers and distant motels trying to figure out if they will ever be able to return home.”

Attorney Thomas Girardi, of Los Angeles, also took issue Tuesday with out-of-court offers Texas Brine began making Friday, claiming company officials are not being fair.

“They’re disgusting, but I think, sooner or later, a jury is going to give these people proper compensation and I’d happy to be a part of that,” Girardi said.

The suit seeks a variety of damages, including possibly expensive punitive damages. The lead plaintiff is Ernest Boudreaux Jr.

Brockovich’s successful fight against a California power plant over contaminated groundwater was portrayed in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.”