PLANT CITY – The head of a law firm made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich” said Sunday he expects to file a lawsuit against Coronet Industries on behalf of neighboring residents in about 60 days.
Ed Masry, whose California- based firm employs Brockovich-Ellis as its research director, said he anticipates spending at least $1 million on a case against the phosphate processor. Masry and members of his legal team met Sunday with hundreds of people at a Lakeland hotel.
Brockovich-Ellis was scheduled to attend but bowed out because of pressing legal research, Masry said.
Health and environmental officials are reviewing complaints that people living near the plant are plagued with serious illnesses. About 20 families are being supplied with bottled water by the state after tests showed elevated levels of contaminants in their wells.
Recent soil tests by government agencies found no elevated levels of contaminants, and air tests found contaminant levels similar to those elsewhere in the state.
Most of the meeting room’s 700 seats were filled Sunday.
“There’s strength in numbers,” said Shannon Franco, whose child has speech problems. Franco helped get Masry’s firm interested in residents’ complaints by e-mailing Brockovich-Ellis.
Jon Belk said his wife, Karen, has suffered ailments since moving to Oakview Estates near the plant.
Toshiba Robinson, whose home is in front of the plant, said her brother, James Dasher III, died of leukemia at age 20 three years ago.
Tiffany Bokesch, 10, brought a poster reading “Coronet Quit Polluting.” She said she’s concerned about her brothers, who have asthma.
“I didn’t want them to get any worser,” she said.
Attendees were asked to complete a short questionnaire that included: “Would you like to be a part of the lawsuit against Coronet should we proceed with a case against them?”
Masry and others discussed plans for a lawsuit, including:
* Residents could sue for personal injury, wrongful death, economic damages such as loss of value of their homes, and emotional distress.
* Contaminants in drinking water at levels not in violation of government standards still could be harmful, Masry said.
* The law firm’s experts will test air and water in the neighborhood and test dust from the plant’s smokestacks that settles on houses.
* The lawsuit would seek damages against Coronet’s parent companies if the processor says it can’t pay.
Coronet officials couldn’t be reached for comment but have said there’s no evidence the plant is causing problems.