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Case: E.G. Cordts Jr. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., No. 1:99CV85 (E.D. Texas) Defense attorneys: Damond Mace was joined by Philip M. Oliss, also of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, and M.C. Carrington and Sandra F. Clark of Beaumont, Texas’ Mehaffy & Weber. Verdict: On March 13, after a two-week trial and only two hours of deliberation, a jury found that DuPont had not polluted, trespassed on or violated the storage rights of the plaintiff’s land. Claim: In 1999, descendants of a prominent Texas family sued DuPont, claiming that its chemical plant just south of Beaumont had disposed of hazardous waste that, over time, had seeped onto the plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff demanded $176 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Judge Thad Heartfield presided over the trial; Greg Thompson of Beaumont’s Provost & Umphrey was the plaintiff’s lead attorney. The defense countered that DuPont’s disposal method — injecting waste thousands of feet down into “deep-injection wells” — was by far the safest alternative and that there was no evidence the material had risen at all, much less to a level where it could pose a threat to the plaintiff. WHAT WAS AT STAKE? “This was going to be a precedent-setting case,” Mace says. “If they had gotten any type of a substantial recovery, the writing was on the wall that there would be further claims — not only [against] DuPont,” which operates dozens of deep-injection wells around the country, but against companies that own the others, about 500 in all, he says. Beyond these, he suggested that claims might have extended to another 100,000 wells nationwide in the oil and gas industry. MOST DIFFICULT HURDLE? Mace cites a computer-generated animation the plaintiff introduced that began with a two-dimensional cutaway of the well, panned to a bird’s-eye view of the DuPont plant, then simulated the plaintiff’s theory of the case by showing the waste injected underground and spreading under the neighboring property. What made this exhibit even more powerful, Mace adds, was that prior to the lawsuit, DuPont had provided regulatory agencies with its own computer model that showed waste flowing in the same direction. DEFENSE RESPONSE? They tackled the animation, Mace explains, by demonstrating that the underlying assumptions on which it was based “were not true to the facts.” And they proved that DuPont’s new computer model, which showed the waste traveling in a circular path that did not extend under the plaintiff’s property, was based on an objective investigation rather than the exigencies of a lawsuit. They relied on three expert geologists who were able to explain complicated data in terms the jury could understand, and on what Mace terms effective cross-examination of the plaintiff’s experts. One without the other, Mace says, would not have won the case. WHAT’S NEXT? Mace will represent ITT Automotive in an Ohio Supreme Court case that “may change the standard that’s currently being used in Ohio intentional tort cases,” he says.

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