DuPont Settles Lawsuits over Leak of Toxic Chemical Used to Make Teflon
DuPont and Chemours Co. will pay $671 million to settle thousands of lawsuits over water supplies contaminated with a chemical used to make Teflon. Personal injury lawsuits allege injuries from water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid, also referred to as PFOA or C-8. Allegedly, local water supplies became contaminated when the DuPont plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia leaked the toxic chemical. Scientists have linked C-8 to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers.
The environmental attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in lawsuits over alleged environmental hazards, including contaminated drinking water. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing a water contamination lawsuit.
The settlement resolves about 3,550 lawsuits alleging injuries from water contaminated with C-8. DuPont and Chemours settled the cases without admitting wrongdoing. DuPont spun off Chemours in 2015. Although Chemours inherited liability related to C-8, the company said it would pay half of the settlement. According to Reuters, DuPont says that the West Virginia plant used C-8 since the early 1950s, and stopped over a decade ago.
A class action lawsuit was filed against DuPont in 2001; residents alleged that the company was liable for exposing them to C-8 through contaminated water supplies. In 2004, the company agreed to install new water treatment systems. Additionally, DuPont said it would fund medical monitoring programs.
C-8 Exposure Linked to 6 Diseases, Verdicts Issued
To determine whether exposure to C-8 is associated with an increased risk of health problems, DuPont convened a panel of scientists. The expert panel concluded that C-8 has a probable link to six illnesses: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.
Members of the class action lawsuit also filed individual lawsuits against DuPont. A class action lawsuit is when one complaint represents a group of plaintiffs (referred to as a class) against a common defendant. The class alleges that they were wronged by the defendant in the same manner. In this case, class action plaintiffs allege being exposed to C-8 through contaminated drinking water caused by a chemical leak.
Plaintiffs are treated separately when they file individual personal injury claims. In April 2013, DuPont C-8 water contamination lawsuits were consolidated into a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. An MDL is a type of mass tort where lawsuits with common questions of fact are consolidated to one court before one judge. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) establishes MDLs with the goal of making complex litigation more efficient. When cases are consolidated, it eliminates the need for duplicate discovery.
The first bellwether trial over C-8 exposure produced a $1.6 million award in favor of the plaintiff, a woman who developed kidney cancer allegedly due to C-8 exposure. The trial concluded in October 2015.
Bellwether cases are the first several lawsuits in a mass tort selected for trial. These cases are usually chosen because they represent most of the litigation. The outcome of a bellwether case is used to predict how the remaining litigation would proceed. For example, companies may be more inclined to settle cases if juries continually award large verdicts to plaintiffs during the bellwether cases.
DuPont settled the second bellwether case and the third produced a verdict totaling $5.6 million. The plaintiff in the latter case was a man who was diagnosed with testicular cancer, allegedly due to C-8 exposure from contaminated water supplies. The jury found that DuPont acted with actual malice. The verdict was initially $5.1 million; punitive damages of $500,000 were added later.
Last month, DuPont was hit with another verdict. An Ohio jury ordered the company to pay a total of $12.5 million to a man who developed testicular cancer, allegedly due to the C-8 leaked from the DuPont plant. The award consisted of $10.5 million in punitive damages and $2 million in compensatory damages. Punitive damages are damages that are awarded beyond simply compensating a plaintiff for their injuries. Juries award punitive damages to punish the defendant for egregious or outrageous behavior. The goal is to dissuade the defendant and others from engaging in this type of behavior in the future.
The case was the first non-bellwether case in the MDL to go to trial, Reuters reports.
Filing a Drinking Water Contamination Lawsuit
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