Sean Stonefield / San Diego's Best Lawyers 2017

For decades, Porter Ranch was known as a tranquil, picturesque outpost of Los Angeles. With its wide-open views and natural surroundings, the upscale neighborhood drew many residents through its reputation for having some of the cleanest air in the San Fernando Valley. But that all changed in October 2015, when a well blowout at nearby Aliso Canyon—one of the country’s largest underground gas storage facilities—resulted in the worst man-made greenhouse-gas disaster in U.S. history. 

Although still under investigation, this preventable well failure released, according to some studies, at least five billion cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere, increasing California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent or more. Other toxic gases, chiefly benzene, were detected at higher-than-normal concentrations, leading Los Angeles County health officials to conclude that the leaked gas may cause long-term health effects. 

“Beyond creating irreparable environmental damage, this blowout crippled the Porter Ranch community, causing significant harm and upheaval,” says James P. Frantz, whose firm is serving on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and representing more than 6,400 individuals in the mass tort lawsuit against the owner of the facility, Southern California Gas Company, and its parent company, Sempra Energy. 

Indeed, with the leak spewing 100,000 pounds of methane per hour, residents suffered from a range of health issues, including nausea, headaches, severe respiratory problems, and nosebleeds. The situation was so dire that two schools in the area closed and thousands of people temporarily relocated for up to six months. The government required SoCalGas/SEMPRA to pay to relocate residents who wished to leave their homes due to health concerns and complaints over dangerous gas inhalation.

“Especially troubling is that SoCalGas/Sempra could have avoided this whole catastrophe had it properly maintained its wells,” Frantz observes. “Nearly half of the facility’s 115 wells, which have 40 years of useful life, were drilled before 1953, and in the case of the leaking well, it had a broken safety valve that was removed in 1979 and never replaced. So this is a hallmark case of a defendant not maintaining its equipment despite knowing beforehand the likelihood that a well blowout was imminent.” 

In fact, about a year before the well blowout, SoCalGas/Sempra admitted in a revenue increase request to the California Public Utilities Commission that its inspection and maintenance program was inadequate and that problems were going undetected. The company asked for approval to collect $256 million from SoCalGas customers to pay for its own equipment repairs, on the prediction that SoCalGas and its customers could experience major failures and service interruptions from these identified hazards.

Given the vulnerability and advanced age of so many of the company’s wells (the average age is 53 years, with some more than 80 years old), Frantz Law Group’s mission is twofold: to ensure that clients are fully compensated for all physical and emotional damages and the loss of value to their homes, and to push for regulatory changes that will prevent another catastrophe. 

“Our philosophy is that wrongdoers must be held responsible for their misconduct in the form of financial compensation to the victims while also being made accountable for their business practices going forward,” Frantz says. “In this case, it’s important that SoCalGas/Sempra repairs and properly maintains all of its wells so that this type of blowout never happens again.”

If Frantz Law Group’s track record is any indication, its clients are in good hands. Since its inception in 1979, the firm has achieved a number of landmark court victories for injured plaintiffs, including the second largest jury verdict in San Diego County history—$223 million.* Frantz Law Group also obtained a $55.4 million jury verdict* against SDG&E (Sempra’s subsidiary) for the families of four Marines who died when their helicopter crashed into one of the company’s unmarked utility towers at Camp Pendleton. Notably, right before and during the trial, SDG&E finally installed safety lights on the dangerous tower and on many other base towers to prevent another tragedy. 

In one of its most far-reaching successes, Frantz Law Group helped lead the fight to ban dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids (ephedra), which have been linked to heart attacks and strokes. After obtaining an $18.5 million verdict* in a class action against an ephedra supplement manufacturer, Frantz was called to testify before Congress as an expert on the stimulant’s dangers. His testimony, and that of other experts, led the Food and Drug Administration to permanently prohibit the sale of ephedra-based supplements. 

“We rely on an all-hands team approach in seeking the best results for our clients, and that has proved vital for these hard-fought cases,” Frantz says. “It’s inspiring to witness the wisdom, passion, great intellect, and experience of the lawyers and staff working at Frantz Law Group, who effect real change for others and make our community safer.”

*Reduced and appealed; resolved for a confidential amount. 
Results in other matters do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter. Results are dependent on the facts of the specific cases, and results may differ if based on different facts.