Stuart H. Smith

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Stuart H. Smith
Born (1960-09-15) September 15, 1960 (age 53)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation attorney; Founding Partner, SmithStag, LLC; Representing commercial fishermen in the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Stuart H. Smith (born September 15, 1960) is a practicing plaintiff attorney licensed in Louisiana. He is a founding partner of the New Orleans-based law firm SmithStag, LLC.[1] Smith has practiced law for nearly 25 years, litigating against oil companies and other energy-related corporations for damages associated with radioactive oilfield waste, referred to within the oil and gas industry as technologically enhanced radioactive material (TERM). The waste product is also known as naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM. The two acronyms TERM and NORM describe a substance that exists naturally in trace amounts – in soil and rocks, for example – and as such poses little health risk to humans. However, when the substance – primarily made up of radium-226 and radium-228 – becomes concentrated through industrial processes, like oil production, it takes on toxic qualities. Exposure to radium is known to cause a variety of illnesses, including cancer.[2] Radium exposure can have significant impact on the human body, and the damage can be particularly acute because radium is chemically similar to calcium –– and as such is frequently absorbed by bones after entering the body.[3]

Legal career[edit]

In 1992, Smith litigated against Chevron for damages tied to NORM contamination. In the first legal action of its kind, Street v. Chevron pitted the family owners of a pipe-yard located in rural southeastern Mississippi against a multinational oil conglomerate.[4] Allegedly, for years, Chevron had sent radioactive oilfield pipe to Street, Inc., for cleaning –– without informing the owners that the pipe contained radioactive material.[5] Investigators from the Mississippi Division of Radiological Health found radiation from radium on the Street property 500 times the natural level.[6] The suit alleged that 38 people, not only the owners and workers but also children and other family members, had “suffered physical and psychological harm because of their exposure to low levels of radiation and that Shell and Chevron should have warned them about the ‘inherent dangers.’”[7] The suit sought $35 million in damages. Shell settled early in the process, but Chevron vigorously defended the case during six months of trial. Chevron ultimately settled the case for an undisclosed amount of money in what remains one of the longest-running jury trials in Mississippi history.[8]

In 1994, Smith teamed with Andrew Sacks to form Sacks & Smith, a New Orleans-based plaintiff law firm. Smith and Michael Stag began working together in 1997 and later established the firm SmithStag, focusing on plaintiff-oriented, environmental and toxic tort cases.[9]

Smith has been lead counsel on a number of oil pollution cases, which focus primarily on damages caused by produced water and sludges oil companies discharge into the environment. The oil and gas industry generates waste water (or produced waters) during production processes, and that waste and sludge has leached into groundwater and contaminated aquifers and other drinking water sources in oil-producing states –– like Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi –– posing a health risk to the general public.[10]

Smith's litigation experience includes a lawsuit against Ashland Oil for contaminating the Lee aquifer, once one of the largest sources of drinking water for residents in eastern Kentucky. His firm litigated against Chevron Corporation for damages surrounding the oil company's alleged contamination of groundwater in the Brookhaven oilfield near the rural town of Brookhaven, Mississippi. The waters in question were part of a sole-source aquifer known as the Southern Hills Regional Aquifer System.

In 2001, Smith was lead counsel in an oilfield radiation case that resulted in a verdict of $1.056 billion against ExxonMobil for contaminating private property it leased from the Grefer family in Harvey, Louisiana.[11] ExxonMobil appealed the verdict, securing a reduction in the punitive award, but was still ordered to pay hundreds of millions in damages. The Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, in its 61-page decision not to rehear the case, stated that ExxonMobil exhibited "callous, calculated, despicable and reprehensible conduct." The opinion took issue with ExxonMobil on two levels: worker safety and property damage. In the opinion, the court states: “The fact that Exxon showed no regard for worker safety certainly demonstrates that it had even less concern for the property damage that it caused, thus further demonstrating the morally culpable nature of its conduct.” The court's opinion went on to say that from June 1986 to March 1987, “Exxon officials intentionally withheld information,” and that the company “knew the [radioactive] scale posed a direct danger to the physical health of those workers.”

Smith is currently representing the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN)[12] as well as commercial fishermen and charter boat captains, whose livelihoods have been damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Smith is lead counsel in the case of George Barisich and the United Commercial Fisherman's Association, Inc., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Versus BP, P.L.C.; BP American Production Company; BP Exploration & Production Inc.; Transocean, LTD.; Anadarko E&P Company LP; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Cameron International Corporation; Halliburton Energy Services, Inc.; and Halliburton Company.

Smith has been interviewed and his cases have been covered by a variety of media outlets, including CNN's Andersen Cooper 360, BBC World News, Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Lawyers Weekly USA, The Times-Picayune, The Baton Rouge Advocate, The Hill, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, National Public Radio, Radio America, and Washington Post Radio.[13]

Smith's areas of expertise include: Mass Torts, Class Actions, Environmental Law, Toxic Torts, Maritime Law and Personal Injury.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Smith dropped out of school at 15, earning his GED years later. He went on to earn his B.S. from Louisiana State University and his J.D. from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 1986.

Smith pledged 1.5 million to Loyola's Law School in 2008. Local environmental attorney Stuart Smith pledges $1.25 million gift to Loyola’s College of Law


Smith is a donor to the Democratic Party and is involved with local politics as an adviser and community coordinator. He has worked for years to preserve the French Quarter in his native New Orleans. Smith is an avid yachtsman, instrument-rated pilot and scuba diver. He is also an active philanthropist, having made contributions to organizations including the Greater New Orleans Foundation; the New Orleans opera, ballet and symphony; and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). His alma mater renamed its law clinic the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.[15] Smith lives in New Orleans and Miami Beach, Florida.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Smith Stag attorney profiles
  2. ^ “Radium” (1992). Webster’s New World Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ “Radium” (1992). Webster’s New World Encyclopedia.
  4. ^ Schneider, Keith (December 24, 1990). “2 Suits 2 Suits on Radium Cleanup Test Oil Industry’s Liability”. The New York Times.[1]
  5. ^ Schneider, Keith (December 24, 1990). The New York Times.
  6. ^ Schneider, Keith (December 24, 1990). The New York Times.
  7. ^ Schneider, Keith (December 24, 1990). The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Street Inc. vs. Chevron" (Winter 1993). The NORM Report, p.8
  9. ^ About SmithStag law firm
  10. ^ Schneider, Keith (December 3, 1990). “Radiation Danger Found in Oilfields Across the Nation”. The New York Times.
  11. ^ Digges, Diana (January 7, 2002). “Billion-Dollar Blockbuster Against Oil Industry: Retired Judge Claims Exxon Mobil Contaminated His Land With Radioactive Waste”. Lawyers Weekly USA, p.1
  12. ^ About LEAN
  13. ^ SmithStag in the news
  14. ^ Areas of Expertise: Stuart Smith
  15. ^ About the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice

References[edit]

Cox, James (1993). “Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Oilfield: Changing the NORM”. Tulane Law Review 67(4), 1197-1230.

Digges, Diana (January 7, 2002). “Billion-Dollar Blockbuster Against Oil Industry: Retired Judge Claims Exxon Mobil Contaminated His Land With Radioactive Waste”. Lawyers Weekly USA, pp. 1–4.

Schneider, Keith (December 24, 1990). “2 Suits 2 Suits on Radium Cleanup Test Oil Industry’s Liability”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/24/us/2-suits-on-radium-cleanup-test-oil-industry-s-liability.html?pagewanted=1

Schneider, Keith (December 3, 1990). “Radiation Danger Found in Oilfields Across the Nation”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/03/us/radiation-danger-found-in-oilfields-across-the-nation.html?pagewanted=all

Schneider, Keith (December 26, 1990). “U.S. Wrestles With Gap in Radiation Exposure Rules”. The New York Times, p. A1.

"Street Inc. vs. Chevron." (Winter 1993). The NORM Report, p. 8.

“Radium” (1992). Webster’s New World Encyclopedia.

“Oil Drilling” (1992). Webster’s New World Encyclopedia.