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Oil Spill Case Gets Second Shot at Class Certification

(CN) - The 1st Circuit ordered a federal judge to reconsider his refusal to certify a class of Massachusetts property owners affected by an oil spill, saying his "spare treatment" of facts requires another look.

A 2003 spill from a fuel tanker tugged by the Bouchard Transportation Co. released about 98,000 barrels of fuel oil on about 90 miles of shore along Buzzards Bay. Property owners sued for liability, nuisance and damages in 2006.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro denied the property owners' request for class certification, agreeing with the transportation company that each individual plaintiff must show specific damages to their property.

But the Boston-based appeals court said the plaintiffs showed enough evidence of common issues to prevent outright dismissal of their request for class certification. Mass tort does not necessarily require every plaintiff to show specific entitlement to recovery, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch wrote for the three-judge panel.

With most damages falling in the $12,000 to $39,000 range, individual legal fights may not be worthwhile, especially considering the probable need for expert witnesses, the ruling states.

An extensive system detailing the degree of oil discharged in specific zones during cleanup could be used in a class action, the court added.

The 1st Circuit vacated and remanded the issue of class certification for further fact-finding.

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