Plaintiff develops cancer after unknowingly buying contaminated property. $63M. Santa Barbara County.


Union Oil Company failed to meet state standards to clean up oil fields when the wells were shut down. Land is later sold for residential use.


The Case

  • Case Name: Kevin Wright v. Union Oil Company of California and Continental Paragon Corp.
  • Court and Case Number: Santa Barbara County Superior Court / 21CV00925
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, June 08, 2023
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, March 08, 2021
  • Type of Case: Premises Liability
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. James F. Rigali
  • Plaintiffs:
    Kevin Wright
  • Defendants:
    Union Oil Company of California
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $63,000,000
  • Non-Economic Damages:


  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 23 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day
  • Jury Polls: 12-0 on liability/causation; 9-3 compensatory damages; 9-3 punitive damages

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Ernst Law Group by Taylor Ernst and Don Ernst, San Luis Obispo.

    Trial Lawyers for Justice by Jakob Z. Norman, Bozeman, MT.

    Trial Lawyers for Justice by Brian J. Ward and Erin L. Powers, Ventura.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Alston & Bird LLP by Jason Levin, Los Angeles.

    Robert E. Meadows, King & Spalding, Houston, TX.


The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Jill Ryer-Powder, Ph.D., DABT, toxicology.

    Dean W. Felsher. M.D., Ph.D., oncology.

    Howard Hu, M.D., epidemiology.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    David Pyatt, Ph.D., toxicology.

    Dominik Alexander, Ph.D., MSPH, epidemiology.

    Michael Thirman, M.D., oncology.


  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    James T. Wells, Ph.D. PG, geology.

    Ross Haeberle, oil field operations.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Robert Ettinger, soil and groundwater contamination.

    Blayne Hartman, Ph.D., vapor intrusion.

    Donald Rice, oil field operations.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    In 1985, plaintiff Wright built his home on land he purchased in Santa Maria, unaware that it had previously been a chemical pit for Union Oil Company, a Chevron subsidiary, in the 1970s. The area had been a producing oil field for ten years since 1964, and when production ended, the defendants covered it in dirt. Chevron began remediation of the field in 2011, several years after it acquired Union Oil.

    In 2015, plaintiff was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that can be caused by benzene exposure. 

    Plaintiff lived in the house for two years. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was discovered at toxic levels in the soil beneath his home decades later, after the property was sold again. His multiple myeloma is in remission, but he experiences severe pain on a daily basis and requires routine chemotherapy treatments to keep the cancer at bay.


  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That Union Oil Company of California failed for 41 years to properly clean the site of chemicals per regulatory standards. Further, that the company failed to disclose the use of a toxic chemical sump pit for production purposes in 1974. That Union Oil failed to abide by a state law then in effect that required oil companies to excavate and remove the toxic remains.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants disputed plaintiff’s claims and contended the site was cleaned up in 2015 per regulatory standards, and that in 2016 the Santa Barbara Health Department issued a “no further action" letter.

    As to punitive damages, defense counsel argued that defendant's actions constituted negligence but there was no intent to inflict harm.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Myeloma. For treatment, plaintiff has received two stem cell treatments and has undergone chemotherapy. Plaintiff’s cancer is in remission and he is undergoing chemotherapy once a month, which he will continue to do in the future.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: Seven figures, but waived.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: Not claimed.
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: Not claimed.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $11,250,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $50,000

Additional Notes

Developers Continental Paragon were dismissed from the case before trial.