Jury Finds for Merck and Other Defendants on the Key Issue in an Environmental Contamination Lawsuit
The Company Will Appeal Portion of Finding In Favor of Plaintiffs
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J., March 31, 2011 - Merck is pleased a federal court jury in California found that plaintiffs were not exposed to contamination in drinking water or ground water in the Abarca, et al. v. Merck & Co., Inc., et al. case.
The company disagrees with the jury's finding about whether plaintiffs possibly could have been exposed to contamination transported by air between 1969 and 1994 or in canal water that may have left the canal during a 2006 flood. Merck will appeal that portion of these Phase 1 trial results, which the company believes were not supported by the evidence and are inconsistent with well-established legal principles.
Merck's role in this litigation relates to its ownership of the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company until 1985. Defendants include Baltimore Aircoil Company, Amsted Industries Incorporated - a corporation to which Merck sold the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company in 1985 - and Merck. Plaintiffs in the case are individuals who live or lived in the Beachwood neighborhood in Merced County, Calif., near a former wood-treating facility operated by BAC-Pritchard, a subsidiary of Baltimore Aircoil Company.
"We are pleased that the jury found that no neighbor of the site was adversely affected through drinking water or ground water by BAC-Pritchard's past wood-treatment operations. We strongly disagree with the jury's findings, regarding air or flood water contamination, which are contrary to actual testing data collected at or near the former BAC-Pritchard facility," said Stephen Lewis of Barg Coffin Lewis and Trapp, LLP, outside counsel for Merck.
The litigation in this case remains in the early stages. Notably, the Phase 1 trial did not address whether any particular person actually was exposed to contamination or developed any health problems, nor did this phase of the proceeding address whether Merck or any other defendant is liable or whether any plaintiff should be entitled to damages. Should the portions of the Phase 1 verdict in the plaintiffs favor not be reversed on post-trial motion or appeal, such matters would be addressed in subsequent phases of litigation.
Merck, which is a research-based pharmaceutical company, has never operated any wood-treatment facility. Its role in this case arises solely from its ownership of the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company until 1985. Since selling the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company to Amsted in 1985, Merck has worked closely with Amsted and state and local environmental regulators to investigate and remediate groundwater and soil at the site. Indeed, the agency overseeing the remediation, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, in 2009 found that the remediation activities at the site were proceeding in a satisfactory manner and that the public was not being exposed to chemicals previously used at the site.
Judge Oliver Wanger of the Fresno Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California presided over the Phase 1 trial. Merck is represented by John Barg, Stephen Lewis and Morgan Gilhuly of the law firm of Barg Coffin Lewis and Trapp, LLP.
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