Judge Upholds $196.2 Million Award Against DuPont
Tue, 02/26/2008 - 5:45am
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia judge has upheld a $196.2 million punitive damages award against DuPont in a class-action pollution case.
Harrison County Circuit Court Chief Judge Thomas A. Bedell also ordered the Wilmington, Del.-based chemical giant on Monday to set aside nearly $130 million for a medical monitoring plan. Bedell said the plan would be operated on a pay-as-you-go basis but DuPont must put the total amount in an escrow account.
The jury in the case required DuPont to provide medical monitoring for 40 years to people who were exposed to arsenic, cadmium and lead from a former zinc-smelting plant in the small community of Spelter.
Bedell appointed attorney Edgar C. Gentle III as administrator of the medical monitoring plan. Gentle is a managing partner in Gentle, Pickens and Turner, a law firm in Birmingham, Ala., which is the escrow agent for a breast implant global settlement, according to the firm's Web site.
Ten residents of Spelter sued DuPont in 2004, claiming the company deliberately misled them about health risks from the pollution and delayed a site cleanup for as long as possible to maximize profits.
The lawsuit was tried last year in four phases involving property damage claims, long-term health screenings and corporate accountability. Jurors awarded the punitive damages in October in the trial's fourth phase.
In the other phases, the jury required medical monitoring and found DuPont liable for and negligent in creating the waste site. Jurors also found that DuPont had created a public and private nuisance, and that its pollution trespassed onto private property.
On Monday, Bedell approved $127 million in attorneys fees and nearly $8 million in litigation costs, which will be taken from the overall award of $381 million. He rejected DuPont's motion for a new trial.
DuPont general counsel Stacey Mobley released a statement Tuesday saying the company was ''extremely disappointed'' by the rulings in the case and would appeal.
''We believe the evidence presented both at trial and in the post-trial proceedings shows that there is no increased risk of disease to the class members as a result of the smelter,'' Mobley said.
Mobley criticized the court's decision to include biennial chest CT scans in the medical monitoring program, saying the risks of harm, including risks of cancer due to radiation exposure, would outweigh any benefits.
He also accused the plaintiffs' attorneys of grossly inflating cost projections for medical monitoring in order to justify a larger award of attorneys' fees.