Residents File Lawsuits Against Exide Executives


Several company executives and the manager of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon were named Monday in two separate lawsuits brought by dozens of residents who allege they and their children were exposed to lead, arsenic and other contaminants.

An Exide representative could not be immediately reached for comment on the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuits filed against James Bloch, Exide’s CEO; Phillip Damaska, the company’s CFO; Ed Mopas, the firm’s environmental manager; John Hogarth, the plant manager; and R. Paul Hirt Jr., Exide’s president.

The allegations include negligence, trespassing and absolute liability for ultra hazardous activity.

One lawsuit was filed by adult plaintiffs and the other on behalf of numerous children. In each case, the plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead exposure, according to the suits, which allege the Exide plant is responsible for health problems ranging from kidney dysfunction to cancer and learning disabilities.

One of the plaintiff’s four attorneys, Robert Mandell, said children and others living near the facility were “unnecessarily” exposed to “dangerously high levels of toxics,” and many of them have illnesses linked to the compounds.

Attorney Robert Kent told EGP they expect to file two or three more cases this week. He estimates the five or so cases will represent around 300 clients.

Kent said they opted against filing the cases as a class-action because they wanted to be able to screen clients to represent those who were damaged, who had suffered birth defects, asthma, cancer, and other illnesses.

Clients were broken up into three categories, adults, minors, and wrongful deaths, he said.

“We couldn’t take on a number that we wouldn’t be able to handle,” he said, adding the courts could ultimately decide to combine all the cases.

All their clients live in areas surrounding Vernon, where Exide is located, including Boyle Heights, Huntington Park, East Los Angeles, Bell, Bell Gardens and Cudahy, Kent told EGP.

“Their quality of life has been compromised” and “we want to get them fairly compensated for their illnesses and death in some cases.

The lawsuits are the latest salvo against Exide, which has included large penalties and orders to upgrade its air pollution systems to meet new more rigorous standards, as well orders to set aside millions of dollars to clean up homes where unsafe levels of lead have been found and pose a danger to the residents.

According to Kent, the lawsuits will allow them to determine what each officer knew and how involved they were in the decisions. “We believe they knew what they were doing,” he said.

He said Exide officials for years thought they could “keep the plant open not put money into cleaning up” and “they got away with it for years.”

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring the Department of Toxic Substances Control to either issue a permanent permit or permanently shut the plant down by the end of 2015.

The Exide plant has been closed since mid-March while management works to upgrade pollution controls and meet other regulatory requirements.

As of press time Exide has not released a comment regarding the lawsuit.

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