Class Action in Texas After Bernal


On January 26, 1994, a slop tank at the Southwestern Refining facility in Corpus Christi exploded.  The eruption and fire sent a plum of toxic smoke and soot into the air that eventually descended on homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Julia Bernal, Mary de la Garza, Anita Berrara and Josephine Suarez sued Southwestern and four other defendants for extreme fear and mental anguish caused by the sight and sound of the explosion, for a variety of other personal injuries, and for property damages allegedly caused by toxic exposure.  Plaintiffs’ personal injuries included respiratory difficulties, skin and eye irritation, headaches, and nausea.  After an additional nine hundred claimants joined the suit, the plaintiffs moved to certify the personal injury claims as a class action.   Thus began one of the most significant cases in recent class action jurisprudence, Southwestern Refining Co., Inc. v. Bernal, 22 S.W.3d 425 (Tex. 2000).  With the Supreme Court opinion in this case, the class certification process in Texas underwent a sea change.

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