Jury Returns $63M Verdict After Finding Chevron Covered Up Toxic Pit on California Land

The land was purchased by a man who built a house on it and was later diagnosed with a blood cancer.

AP Photo/Ben Margot, File

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — A California jury has returned a $63 million verdict against Chevron after finding the oil giant covered up a toxic chemical pit on land purchased by a man who built a house on it and was later diagnosed with a blood cancer.

Kevin Wright, who has multiple myeloma, unknowingly built his home directly over the chemical pit near Santa Barbara in 1985, according to his lawsuit.

Starting in 1974, Chevron subsidiary Union Oil Company of California had operated a sump pit for oil and gas production, a process that left the carcinogenic chemical benzene on the property, court papers said.

Wright bought the land and built the house in 1985. Nearly three decades later, he was diagnosed with the cancer that attacks plasma cells in the blood and can be caused by benzene exposure, court documents said.

The jurors in Santa Barbara on Wednesday returned the $63 million verdict, said Jakob Norman, an attorney for Wright. Norman called the case a "blatant example of environmental pollution and corporate malfeasance."

Chevron said Union Oil Company would appeal the judgment.

"We strongly disagree with the jury's decisions to award compensatory and punitive damages," Chevron said in a statement Thursday.

Wright's cancer is in remission, his attorneys said, but he regularly undergoes chemotherapy treatments to hold the illness at bay.

"They cut corners, and my life was turned upside down as a result," Wright said in a statement provided by his attorneys. "Chevron's continued denial of the harm they caused is a shameful reminder that this company values only profits, not people."

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