updated 2/1/2006 11:23:29 AM ET 2006-02-01T16:23:29

A federal judge has certified as a class-action a lawsuit against Murphy Oil Corp. over an oil spill after Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon's decision Monday applies to an area in St. Bernard Parish that falls between what the plaintiffs said was damaged and what Murphy sought. The judge's ruling did not specify how many residences are in the class.

However, Fallon reserved the right to expand or reduce the area, depending upon the results of further investigation. He also said that if a particular plaintiff was outside the class area, that person could still bring a complaint and that not every plaintiff in the area was automatically entitled to recovery.

The plaintiffs claimed the damaged area was more than six square miles and included at least 10,000 residences. But Murphy Oil, based in El Dorado-Ark., argued during a hearing last month that roughly one square mile and about 2,900 residences were affected by the crude oil spill from its refinery in Meraux.

The refinery spilled about 1 million gallons of oil in the aftermath of the Aug. 29 hurricane. The suit claims Murphy was negligent. The company has denied the claim.

At the hearing, the company also said it has paid more than $50 million through its settlement program for about 1,800 residences, more than $13 million for cleanup of public property and more than $4 million on private-property work.

Although the class area is smaller than the plaintiffs wanted, attorney Hugh Lambert said he was pleased with the judge's decision.

George Frilot, an attorney for Murphy Oil, said the company was disappointed and would appeal.

The 125,000-barrel-a-day refinery is expected to be closed through the first quarter, Murphy has said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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