Stuart H. Smith

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters

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Most lawyers would be intimidated by taking on the world’s most powerful and secretive company, the giant Exxon-Mobil Corporation. But Stuart H. Smith isn’t like most attorneys. With his expert knowledge about the kind of radioactive pollution caused by oil-and-natural-gas production, Smith knew how to show before a jury how the global oil giant had for years systematically dumped radioactive pipe – and in the process poisoned its unknowing blue-collar workforce – on one man’s property just outside Smith native city, New Orleans. And he and his partners made an audacious request: That the jury come back with a 10-digit verdict against Exxon-Mobil. But after hearing the case, Smith’s team indeed won a $1.056 billion judgment. Although later reduced somewhat by an appeals judge, it remains a record penalty for this type of case.

Stuart H. Smith has been one of America’s top environmental lawyers for more than a quarter-century, taking on not just Exxon-Mobil but Chevron, BP, and other large corporations that had harmed their neighbors and their workers with hazardous pollution. His success is reflected in the title of his autobiography: Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America – a book that award-winning documentarians Josh and Rebecca Tickell called “a true-to-life, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, hard-hitting David vs. Goliath thriller..”

Even metastatic kidney cancer a few years ago didn’t stop Smith. Despite a grim prognosis, he beat back the disease with help from some of the world’s best doctors, resumed his career by joining the New Orleans-based Cooper Law Firm, and is tackling an array of complex cases on behalf of everyday people. Currently, he and his partners are taking on Big Pharma on behalf of babies born to opioid abuse, suing federal contractors tied to radioactive contamination of a middle school in southern Ohio, and tackling two other big radiation pollution cases in Missouri and Illinois.

Smith has also been lead counsel on more than 100 oil pollution cases, which focus primarily on damages caused by the wastewater and sludges oil companies discharge into the environment. His first big case was groundbreaking – a lawsuit against the giant Chevron Corp. on behalf of workers at a Mississippi disposal yard who were exposed and in some cases sickened by exposure to radioactive debris on oil pipes. The case – which resulted in a favorable settlement for his clients – brought much needed national attention to the problems known within the oil and gas industry as technologically enhanced radioactive material (TERM), or naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

On April 21, 2010, Smith was flying his jet back to New Orleans when he saw the black plume of smoke from BP’s badly damaged and leaking Deepwater Horizon rig, out in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the next few years, he threw himself into seeking justice for the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of its worst environmental disaster. He worked with a team of experts that uncovered evidence that government and BP officials were downplaying the extent and the damage of the spill and published it on his popular environmental blog. As a lawyer, he fought for the interest of the Gulf’s commercial fishermen and numerous other clients.

Latest stories

How other states are fighting not to be like Louisiana and its ‘Cancer Alley’

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When you live embedded within a toxic infrastructure like Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a long stretch of the Mississippi River that’s lined with petrochemical plants and infused with some of the worst air and water pollution in the United States, every day can be a struggle.’ It must feel that way for people like Lydia Gerard and Robert Taylor who come from the tiny town of Reserve, La., which...

The Deepwater Horizon site is now an apocalyptic hellscape with sick, mutant crabs

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Even with the 10-year anniversary of the catastrophe fast approaching, it’s easy to forget all about the tragic events that occurred at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, on April 20, 2010. Indeed, BP and its friends in Big Oil have invested literally billions of dollars over the course of a decade in the hopes that you won’t remember the explosion that...

Poisoned Nicaraguan banana workers get another shot at justice

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In 1979, American environmental authorities banned a dangerous pesticide known widely as Nemagon. This toxic bug-killer – which was manufactured by big firms such as Dow Chemical and also known by the name dibromochloropropane, or DBCP – was accused of making men sterile and causing other health hazards. But that ban only covered sale of Nemagon here on domestic soil. Incredibly, despite knowing...

A much-needed first step toward saving Louisiana’s wetlands

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My native state of Louisiana seems to lead the nation in environmental disasters – both the unseen, slow-motion variety (like the state’s notorious “Cancer Alley,” where low-income residents drink and breathe the toxins from a miles-long wall of petrochemical plants) and the more dramatic kind like 2010’s BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, which caused the worst offshore oil spill in American...

Stunning new court filing accuses Lagoon catamaran firm of shoddy work, deceit

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Stunning new evidence against the French catamaran maker Lagoon has emerged in the Florida court battle over the Double Down — the problem-plagued elite-class 78-foot catamaran that was supposed to be ready to take on the world’s oceans, but wasn’t. In court papers filed recently in the Broward County, Fla., lawsuit brought by our partnership, Best Buddies in Motion, Ltd., the vessel’s...

We can stop America’s surge in opioid-dependent babies. Here’s how

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Imagine a massive public health crisis in the United States that affects tens of thousands of people. Now imagine that the government had a simple tool at its disposal that could prevent this kind of physical and psychological trauma. You might think that I’m writing about America’s deadly outbreak of gun violence, which has made headlines this summer from Dayton to El Paso. But actually I’m...

How Big Oil is working to take away your 1st Amendment rights

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Pretty soon, you won’t be able to walk down the street in my native Louisiana without tripping across an oil or natural gas pipeline. OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but after a decade of unending petrochemical growth fueled largely by the surge in fracking across the country, it seems that as soon as one pipeline is finished, a new one is announced. Last week, the energy company Tellurian...

Top health expert warns of drinking-water risks in Piketon radiation case

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One thing that I’ve found to be a constant in more than 25 years of working cases around pollution from radiation: A good outside expert will often tell citizens the things that government or big business simply can’t or won’t. In most of my major radiation cases against the world’s largest oil companies, we’ve conducted our own testing to convincingly show that giant firms like Chevron and Exxon...

How a Lagoon catamaran turned our dream into a nightmare

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Double Down seemed like a perfect name for the 78-foot Lagoon catamaran that my partner and I bought in December 2017, after first laying eyes on the vessel at a Fort Lauderdale Boat Show. It had been just a few years ago that we’d circled the globe in a sailboat, right before a grim cancer diagnosis from my doctors led me to believe I’d never get a chance to do that again. But now I am in good...

How fracking is turning America’s great rivers radioactive and spreading cancer risks to anyone exposed

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It sounds almost too impossible to believe: Radioactive, toxic waste — ounce for ounce, one of the most dangerous substances known to man — dumped into major sewage plants, screwing up the works and then flowing into some of America’s most scenic and important waterways, passing through highly populated areas. But that is exactly what is happening across the state of Pennsylvania...

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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