Friday, July 06, 2001

Butler County sues Shell Oil


Action says water-line pipes failing

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County is taking on the Shell Oil Co. over leaking water pipes.

        In a lawsuit filed Thursday, the county blames the company for developing and marketing water-line pipe that has been failing at hundreds of locations and costing the county $300,000 to $400,000 a year to fix.

        Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper called the suit “innovative,” saying individual consumers have filed similar suits against Shell in other states, but this is the first such lawsuit filed by an Ohio governmental entity.

        Attempts to immediately obtain comment from Shell, based in Houston, Texas, were unsuccessful Thursday.

        The suit involves Blu-Max pipe, which is made from polybutylene resin. It was used to connect about 20,000 eastern Butler County homes to the county's water system from 1982-96. The county authorized its use because officials believed manufacturers' and distributors' claims that it was easy to install, was less expensive than copper pipe and had a life expectancy of 50 years or more.

        But the pipes have been bursting at an increasing rate after only a few years, the lawsuit says. “In 1997, the county documented 177 breaks in (Blu-Max) pipe. In 1998, the county documented 195 such breaks. In 1999, the county documented 438 breaks, representing a failure rate of approximately 3 percent,” the lawsuit says.

        The suit names Shell and other companies that manufactured, distributed and/or sold the pipe. Ths suit accuses the companies of negligence, deceptive trade practices, misrepresentation, breach of contract, breach of warranties, fraud, public nuisance and other civil wrongs.

        “It is unacceptable that these repairs be a burden to . . .citizens through higher water rates,” Mr. Piper said. “Those who made money from the sale of this defective product should pay for the cost of repairs, not citizens of Butler County.”

        The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, in excess of $25,000 each, costs of pressing the suit, and other damages under the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

        Mr. Piper's civil division, worked with the Middletown law firm,Frost, Brown, Todd on the suit.

       



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