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Ill. Benzene Lawsuit Targets Shell Oil Spill

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

A benzene lawsuit has been filed against Shell Oil and BP by the estate of a late teacher, Debra Ochs. The leukemia lawsuit was filed by Jeffry Ochs, her husband, and on behalf of their daughter.

Debra Ochs, a teacher at the Roxana School District in Illinois, died of leukemia in 2008. She had fought the disease for five years, reports The Telegraph.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring benzene levels in recent years, trying to detect the chemical. In 1986, a benzene release occurred - a total of 8,400 gallons of benzene leaked out of an underground pipeline, reports The Telegraph.

Benzene is a component of gasoline but it is toxic and may cause cancer. Benzene exposure is most commonly related to an increase in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) - the same type of leukemia that Debra Ochs suffered through.

The lawsuit claims that the defendants were negligent in building the oil refining facilities in Wood River because the defendant companies knew that benzene was toxic and potentially cancerous, reports The Telegraph. The lawsuit also claims that the defendants did not exercise ordinary care in preventing the harmful leaks of benzene.

The suit asks for $50,000 on each of the three counts. The plaintiffs also requested compensation for the death of Debra Ochs and the loss of her emotional support and pain and suffering, reports The Telegraph.

BP and Shell maintained that they were in compliance with the law and had operated and run the oil refining facility with the most up-to-date technology at that time, reports The Telegraph. Under products liability law, this could be a defense if it is proven true, and if there were no reasonable alternatives that were safer.

But, for Ochs' estate to prove negligence, they must show that there was a duty of care that was breached, and a connection between the breach and the harm caused. The damages must also have been foreseeable by the defendants.

The benzene lawsuit was filed in January, reports The Telegraph. And, in contrast with the leukemia lawsuit filed by Ochs' estate, other residents of Roxana have recently filed class actions against the companies for lowering their property values due to the toxic spill.

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