Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are commercially manufactured compounds that are widely used to make everyday products more resistant to stains, grease, and water. For example, PFCs are used to make non-stick cookware, are used in sprays to make fabrics stain-resistant, and are even used in certain food packaging materials. PFCs break down extremely slowly, and as a result there is widespread human exposure to PFCs that have been released into the environment as the result of manufacturing processes.
The most common route of PFC exposure is through consuming PFC-contaminated drinking water. Many types of PFCs are carcinogenic or otherwise toxic if consumed, and can cause a wide range of health problems. Unfortunately, the use and disposal of most PFCs is largely unregulated by the government.
The DuPont company has used a type of PFC called perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the production of Teflon for non-stick frying pans since the 1950s. At one of DuPont’s chemical sites in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the company spent decades brazenly dumping PFOA-containing waste into the Ohio River, thereby contaminating local water supplies and farmland. DuPont continued dumping this waste despite having known since at least 1961 that PFOAs were toxic and could cause health problems.
By the 1970s, DuPont discovered that its factory workers had high concentrations of PFOAs, and in 1991 DuPont established an internal safety limit for PFOA concentration in drinking water. Meanwhile, the company hid evidence that the chemical had contaminated the local water supply well beyond what the company’s own scientists considered safe and far beyond what independent scientists considered safe.
Litigation against DuPont over PFOA-contaminated drinking water began in 2001, when a class action was filed in West Virginia state court. In 2004, DuPont settled the case, agreeing to install filtration plants in the six affected water districts and pay a cash award of $70 million. DuPont also agreed to fund a scientific study to determine whether there was a scientific link between PFOA and any diseases – if any such link was found, class members with those diseases could sue for personal injury. In December 2011, that study found a “probable link” between PFOA and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and pre-eclamsia. Since the study was released, more than 3,500 Plaintiffs have filed personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont, and these cases have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Ohio’s Southern District.
The MDL’s third bellwether trial recently resulted in a $12.5 million verdict in favor of a 56-year-old truck driver diagnosed with testicular cancer. This verdict is composed of $2 million in compensatory damages, and $10.5 million in punitive damages. The punitive damage award comes as a result of the jury’s finding that DuPont had acted maliciously by hiding the risk of PFOA exposure, and is a large increase over the punitive damages awarded in previous trials. Two previous bellwether trials also resulted in Plaintiff’s verdicts, with one jury awarding a kidney cancer survivor $1.6 million in compensatory damages (no punitive damages awarded), and the other jury awarding a testicular cancer survivor $5.1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
If you would like more information about these cases, contact Grant Cofer, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Grant.Cofer@beasleyallen.com.
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