Mobile Gas lawsuit moves forward

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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) FOX10 News continues its investigation into a chemical spill in Eight Mile in 2008.

Thursday April 24, Judge Michael Youngpeter ruled the plaintiffs are allowed to get the testimony from Mobile Gas’ General Counsel, Edgar Downing.

A group of Eight Mile residents is suing Mobile Gas because they claim the gas company is responsible for a chemical spill that is exposing them to the potent fumes of tert-butyl mercaptan.

Mercaptan is a foul-smelling chemical added to natural gas lines to help the human nose detect a leak.

The gas company’s spokesperson will not comment on the issue during litigation but the company’s website states in 2008, a line used to carry odorant leaked after being damaged by lightning.

According to the website, the gas company is still investigating whether the 2008 leak has any connection to the odor that residents in the Eight Mile community started reporting in 2011.

The plaintiffs claim Downing played a role in the handling of the company’s 2008 chemical spill and they want to know what he knows. But since Downing is the company’s general counsel Mobile Gas argued, Downing is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Judge Michael Youngpeter decided Downing was acting as “the environmental compliance officer” and not as the “legal adviser” during the 2008 spill. Therefore, the judge ruled, his knowledge of the event is not privileged information.

In court last week, we learned Mobile Gas was in the middle of negotiations to be sold to the company, Sempra, when the 2008 mercaptan spill occurred.

Youngpeter ruled the plaintiffs’ attorneys are now allowed to ask Downing about the “disclosure and nondisclosure” of environmental issues during the Sempra acquisition of Mobile Gas.

The judge ruled attorneys for the Eight Mile residents have to stick to those two topics and a special judge will oversee the deposition to make sure both sides play by the rules.

FOX10 News Reporter Letisha Bush will continue to follow the latest developments in this case.

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