Chemical release class-action suit settlement OK’d

Published 9:06 am Monday, January 26, 2015

In the Jan. 14 fairness hearing in the class action case arising from the Oct. 23, 1995, chemical explosion and release at the Gaylord Chemical plant explosion in Bogalusa, the presiding judge, the Hon. Robert Burns, approved a class settlement with Reliance Insurance Co. in liquidation.

Reliance Insurance Co. was declared insolvent by the Pennsylvania Commission of Insurance in 2001, and those liquidation proceedings have continued since that time. Because of the liquidation, claims against Reliance in the class action case had been prohibited from going forward.

Under the settlement, class members will participate if they previously filed a proof of claim form in the class action. The settlement provides for an initial payment in the total amount of approximately $4.9 million on behalf of Reliance. Funding is expected by the end of March 2015. Additional settlement payments totaling as much as approximately $7.7 million may be received in the future under the settlement, depending on the assets and liabilities of Reliance in the Pennsylvania liquidation case. Dates and amounts of any such future payments are not specified.

The individual amounts to be paid to each class member under the settlement will be determined after the initial payment of $4.9 million is received — projected to be in March or April. Class members will be advised of individual allocations, and a court-appointed deputy special master will oversee and manage the settlement allocation process.

At the Jan. 14 hearing, Burns heard from counsel for the Louisiana class in Bogalusa’s James Farmer, plaintiffs’ liaison counsel, and Gerald Meunier, co-lead counsel the plaintiffs. Meunier argued that the settlement is fair and reasonable to class members in light of the fact that they are no longer legally able to pursue their claims in the class action but, absent a settlement, would have to seek compensation from Reliance through the liquidation proceedings in Pennsylvania.

“That would require each individual class member to hire counsel, appear in the Pennsylvania proceedings and present evidence of the damages claimed,” Meunier said. “The delays, costs and uncertainties of this process would make it virtually impossible for the class members as a whole to obtain justice, other than through this settlement with Reliance in the class action case.”

At the end of the proceeding, Burns agreed that the proposed settlement was fair and reasonable. He signed an order giving the settlement his approval. That meant that the class action case is concluded, since all class members against all other defendants have been resolved under prior class settlements.

“Bringing this case to a final is an important achievement for the community,” Meunier said. “The last step in this longstanding litigation was to settle with the insurance company in liquidation. Now, at least legally, we’ve brought closure to the thousands of individuals who were affected by the chemical release.”

Farmer reminded all claimants to make sure that their disbursing agent has their current address. The office of the disbursing agent can be reached at 504-840-3850 or 1-877-840-3850.