COLUMBUS – A federal jury has awarded a college professor $5.1 million in the second DuPont C-8 bellwether trial.
The jury issued its verdict July 6 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The $5.1 million was for compensatory damages. David Freeman, a professor at Marietta College just across the river from Parkersburg and a DuPont plant, also was awarded punitive damages, and that phase of the trial begins July 7 with the same jury. Freeman has testicular cancer.
The company said it plans to appeal the verdict.
“It’s been a long haul … 16 years,” said Charleston attorney Ed Hill, who has been involved in the litigation since it began in 2000 in Kanawha County. “It sends a powerful message to DuPont that they’re going to be held accountable for their actions. And the punitive damage award is intended to make sure DuPont and other companies acting similarly in the future instead of putting profits above the health and safety of the public.
“I’m pleased the jury sent this message. I hope DuPont gets the message, and the right thing for DuPont to do is to come to the table and start talking about a global resolution rather than clogging the courts with 3,500 cases and making people wait year after year for compensation.”
Hill, a partner at Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler, said much of the Freeman trial focused on “DuPont’s actions, which constituted conscious disregard for the health and safety of people.”
“This trial had more evidence that the earlier trial,” he said. “That included documents showing what DuPont know, when they knew it and what they did or failed to do about it.”
He also said the compensatory damage figure was a nice surprise.
“In Ohio, lawyers can suggest amounts for compensatory damages,” he said. “So, during the closing argument, one of our counsel suggested the sum of $5 million for total compensatory damages. The jury can use that as a guideline. They can award more or less … whatever they see fit.
“The fact that the jury added to that is a significant message, in my opinion. DuPont’s whole defense was that they really didn’t know the danger of C-8 until the science panel rendered their findings in 2012. However, document after document after document showed they did know.”
The jury awarded punitive damages when it ruled DuPont acted with malice by dumping contaminated water into the Ohio River from its Washington Works plant near Parkersburg.
Attorneys for DuPont maintain the company monitored C-8 levels in the water and did blood tests on employees. Plaintiffs attorneys said DuPont knew for decades that C-8 was dangerous.
In 2005, DuPont paid $16.5 million in a settlement for a health study of residents of the area in both Ohio and West Virginia. The results of that study, released in 2012, showed there was a “probably link” between C-8 and different types of cancers and other diseases.
The first bellwether trial earlier this year ended with a $1.6 million verdict for an Ohio woman who said the water caused her kidney cancer. She did not receive punitive damages.
The bellwether cases are “test” trials to determine what the parties can expect in the other 3,500 cases if they go to trial.
“The Freeman verdict will be appealed," Chemours spokeswoman Cynthia Salitsky said. "It is important to note that all six bellwether cases in the MDL have now been tried, resolved or otherwise addressed. DuPont is the named defendant in each of the cases and is directly liable for any judgment. In the event DuPont claims that it is entitled to indemnification from Chemours as to some or all of the judgment, Chemours retains its defenses to such claims.
“All claims will be evaluated on an individual basis due to the unique facts present in each case. This type of litigation typically takes place over many years and interim results do not predict the final outcome of cases.”
Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. has heard the bellwether cases, and he will have other judges help hear the 260 or so cancer cases that could begin as early as November and run through the end of 2017.
“We filed the class action suit, originally in Kanawha County,” Hill said. “DuPont wanted it tried in Wood County, so Judge (Duke) Bloom agreed to transfer. It ended up being presided over by Judge (George) Hill, who no longer is with us. But, he certified the class and approved the settlement in 2005, which resulted in the first payout and having the water filtration systems being placed on six different public water districts.
“Judge Hill also approved us utilizing $70 million on a study on 69,000 people. They got $400 check on the spot after they gave blood and medical histories. Part of that settlement agreement was to hire three scientists to study C-8 and what it did to humans.”
The group Keep Your Promises, which is critical of DuPont’s actions, also hailed the July 6 verdict.
“We were in the courtroom watching the proceedings throughout the trial, and based on the evidence we saw presented, which detailed DuPont’s decades long cover up of the harms of C-8 and the extent of contamination, we were certain that punitive damages would be awarded,” said Harold Bock. “This verdict vindicates all of us who have been fighting for DuPont to do the right thing, a fight that has lasted over a decade.
“Today’s verdict puts a spotlight on DuPont’s negligence and conscious disregard for the people of the mid-Ohio Valley. This verdict means that help is on the way for the thousands of residents waiting for their day in court, the dozens of communities in need of remediation, and the folks in the mid-Ohio Valley struggling to use the Medical Monitoring Program that has been mishandled by DuPont. To the extent that this is a signal of verdicts to come, this verdict alone will make the cost of DuPont’s C-8 abuse skyrocket into billions of dollars, which so many residents and communities sorely need.
“We wish to congratulate David Freeman for holding DuPont accountable, and we hope that the result in this trial gives everyone harmed by C-8 renewed hope that DuPont will be forced to keep its promises to mid-Ohio Valley communities in the near future.”