COLUMBUS – A federal jury has awarded a college professor $500,000 in punitive damages on top of $5.1 million in compensatory damages awarded earlier this week 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, and the punitive award was handed down July 8 by the same jury. David Freeman, a professor at Marietta College just across the river from Parkersburg and a DuPont plant.
The company said it plans to appeal the verdict.
“David Freeman’s $5.1 million jury verdict against DuPont on Wednesday plus an additional $500,000 of punitive damages today is a reflection of the devastation that Chad Holliday and the other DuPont insiders at Wilmington have intentionally and secretly inflicted on our friends and neighbors in the Mid-Ohio Valley over the past five decades,” said Harry Deitzler, a Charleston attorney who has worked with the plaintiffs in the C-8 cases. “At the trial, DuPont attorneys deceptively tried to manipulate the jurors into believing that the corporate brass had no clue that they were poisoning the community and even their own employees.
“Even DuPont’s media representative confirmed that she was never told about the many animal studies which were hidden in DuPont secret files that documented the degree to which C8 poisons the body.”
Deitzler, a partner at Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler, said DuPont had know of the dangers of C-8 since 1981 and before.
“DuPont paid its attorneys at this trial to brazenly assert that the chemical is harmless,” he said July 8. “In the courtroom, they physically tore up DuPont’s hand-picked science panel’s findings that C-8 causes human disease.”
Deitzler’s law partner echoed those sentiments.
“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 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. After two days of work, the jury on July 8 came back with the punitive figure of $500,000
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.
“In 2005, DuPont boldly proclaimed that it wanted an answer to the C-8 toxicity question based on science,” Deitzler said. “But when the truth was exposed, DuPont reversed its course. Over the past five weeks of trial, DuPont has paid its attorneys to say that the scientifically irrefutable conclusion as to C-8’s toxicity is mistaken.
“Shame on DuPont Corporation for what it has done to us here in West Virginia and Ohio, including also to its decent and hard-working employees here at Washington Works ground zero. If it were up to me, the CEO and other insiders at Wilmington would all go to jail for making the choice to put their love of money ahead of the lives of people in our community.”
Deitzler also noted that if you multiply the punitive verdict by number of claimants of which the jury was aware, that total would be $1.75 billion.
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 and the punitive amount announced July 8.
“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,” Keep Your Promises advisor Harold Bock said. “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.”
Bock said the punitive damage award means there can be “no denying” of DuPont’s decades of misconduct.
“Not only was the company aware of the dangers of C-8, but they also knew the chemical was contaminating local drinking water at harmful levels,” he said. “Despite this knowledge, and the availability of cheap, alternative disposal methods, DuPont continued to poison surrounding communities, deny any harm, and cover up the evidence.
“We are proud of the tireless efforts of the plaintiffs attorneys to reveal, in their words, DuPont’s sociopathic actions and to ensure that the award cannot be written off as just another cost of doing business. We know that no award will bring back the health of David Freeman and the thousands of others harmed by C-8, but we hope that it will deter DuPont from misconduct in the future.”