COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has consolidated personal injury lawsuits against DuPont involving its Wood County plant.

The JPML on April 8 created an multidistrict litigation proceeding in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to hear lawsuits alleging harm from water contaminated by DuPont’s Washington Works Plant near Parkersburg with a chemical known as C-8.

Twenty-six lawsuits will be moved to the court, where they and future lawsuits will be heard by Judge Edmund Sargus, a Wheeling native.

Of the 26, seven were filed in West Virginia.

“On the basis of the papers filed and the hearing session held, we find that these actions involve common questions of fact, and that centralization… will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation,” wrote Kathryn Vratil, the acting chairman of the JPML.

“All the actions are personal injury or wrongful death actions arising out of plaintiffs’ alleged ingestion of drinking water contaminated with a chemical, C-8 (also known as perfluorooctoanoic acid or ammonium perfluorooctanoate) discharged from DuPont’s Washington Works Plant.”

The lawsuits allege the plaintiffs suffered from one or more of six diseases that have been potentially linked to C-8 exposure by a study conducted as part of a 2005 settlement.

That settlement was the result of a 2001 class action filed by the Charleston firm Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler. The study linked C-8 exposure with kidney cancer, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension and hypercholesterolemia.

The order says 80,000 people live in the six water districts allegedly contaminated with C-8.

Charleston attorney Kathy A. Brown, working with the Alabama firm Cory Watson Crowder & DeGaris, filed the first C-8 personal injury suits last year. The three complaints were filed in October in Wood Circuit Court.

The Alabama firm had lobbied for the cases to be consolidated in the Ohio court, arguing Charleston’s federal court is too busy. It already has five MDLs assigned to Chief Judge Joseph Goodwin, including a transvaginal mesh MDL that, as of February, was home to more than 11,000 cases.

“The Southern District of West Virginia is already overtaxed with MDL litigation,” the attorneys wrote in a February motion. “Sending yet another MDL to the Southern District of West Virginia at this time would not promote judicial economy.”

Jon Conlin of the Cory Watson firm wrote that it represented 537 individual clients living in 11 states, though each client says he or she suffered exposure to C-8 while a resident of Ohio or West Virginia. The firm has filed 25 cases.

“The majority of the related actions are pending in this district, including the first-filed and most advanced action,” the JPML wrote.

“Four of the six water districts allegedly contaminated by C-8 are in the Southern District of Ohio, as are the majority of potential plaintiffs.

“Further, centralization in this district permits the panel to assign the litigation to a less-utilized district with an experienced judge who is not presently overseeing a multidistrict litigation.”

Sargus has been a federal judge since 1996 and was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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