News | October 22, 2007

West Virginia Jury Finds DuPont Liable For Punitive Damages

Clarksburg, WV – A jury in the Circuit Court of Harrison County, West Virginia has decided that DuPont must pay $196,200,000.00 in punitive damages to residents in and around the town of Spelter, West Virginia. This comes as one more victory in a sweeping series of successes for the plaintiffs.

In the environmental class-action trial which lasted for over a month, E.I. DuPont, the nation's third largest chemical company, was found negligent in creating a 112-acre waste site, putting area residents at a higher-than-normal risk of diseases, including cancer, cognitive problems, cardiac disease and lead poisoning. The waste was generated from a zinc smelting operation once owned and operated by DuPont.

Residents in this small, West Virginia town and surrounding communities were represented by attorneys from The Cochran Firm, Levin Papantonio, and Kevin & Madonna, LLC. Co-lead attorneys for these powerful environmental law firms are Farrest Taylor, Mike Papantonio, and Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Speaking on behalf of The Cochran Firm, Taylor said that the former zinc smelter site was one of the worst environmental disasters in the State of West Virginia. According to Taylor, DuPont cleaned up its property, but refused to take any action to address the contamination found in the surrounding communities. According to Taylor, the jury heard and saw evidence how DuPont manipulated the regulatory process to avoid costly off-site cleanup. Fortunately for our clients, the legal system provided an effective remedy.

The six week trial was divided into four phases. The first phase of the trial was to determine if DuPont was responsible for contamination found throughout the communities that surround the former smelter. During the first phase, Farrest Taylor and Mike Papantonio delivered opening statements on behalf of the plaintiffs. DuPont was held responsible for pollution that extended of a wide area surrounding DuPont's former zinc smelter.

On October 10, the jury ordered DuPont to provide medical monitoring of about 8,000 residents who will receive free diagnostic testing every two years for 40 years.

In the decision of the third phase of the trial, jurors ordered DuPont to pay $55.5 Million in damages associated with the remediation of communities surrounding DuPont's hazardous waste site.

In the fourth phase of the trial, the jurors heard a closing argument from Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Mike Papantonio. In his closing, Kennedy reminded the jury that DuPont's actions in Spelter contradicted DuPont's stated corporate core values, which tout integrity and environmental stewardship. Kennedy took the jury through a list of internal DuPont emails that showed an indifference to the West Virginia environment. In one email, DuPont's in-house counsel hoped that a couple of large storms would wash the mountain of waste into the West Fork River and eliminate DuPont's responsibility to clean-up the waste pile. In his closing, Papantonio reminded the jury that DuPont's conduct in Spelter mirrored its conduct at Parkersburg, West Virginia, where DuPont has contaminated an entire community with a chemical known as C-8.

For over 90 years, the zinc smelter plant had produced over 400 million pounds of zinc dust, materials used in rustproofing products, paint pigments and battery anodes leaving area residents exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead.

Property owners sued the Delaware-based DuPont and New York-based T.L. Diamond in the class-action lawsuit claiming the companies deliberately dumped dangerous metals on the site of the former zinc-smelting plant. DuPont has been involved with the property since 1899 when it bought the land for a gunpowder mill. The company later sold the property.

Diamond ran the plant from 1928 until 1950. Although DuPont began to address environmental problems in 1996 on the former zinc smelter site, it did nothing for the surround communities that had endured decades of pollution. In 2001, DuPont repurchased the site and all active zinc smelting activities ceased at this time.

The Cochran Firm is one of the premier plaintiffs' litigation and criminal defense law firms in the United States and has handled numerous national environmental cases. Levin Papantonio has over twenty-two years experience in environmental litigation.

SOURCE: The Cochran Firm