Dupont headquarters at Chestnut Run Plaza. (Photo: Littleinfo via Wikimedia Commons)
A federal jury in Ohio on Thursday awarded $10.5 million in punitive damages to a man who said DuPont’s dumping of chemically-infused water caused his testicular cancer, the largest amount yet in the multidistrict litigation.
The verdict was confirmed by the plaintiff’s attorney and a DuPont spokesman.
The same jury last month awarded Kenneth Vigneron $2 million in compensatory damages after finding the Wilmington-based company acted with actual malice in discharging the chemical C8 into the Ohio River.
Also known as PFOA, the chemical was used to make Teflon and has been linked in recent years to a range of diseases, including cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension and ulcerative colitis. DuPont faces some 3,500 lawsuits from residents near the company’s Washington Works plant in West Virginia, who say C8 contaminated their drinking water and caused a host of health issues.
The cases have been consolidated into an MDL in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. But Thursday’s award was the highest so far in a handful of bellwether cases selected to test the strength of the claims.
One plaintiff last summer received a total of $5.6 million in damages, and another was awarded $1.6 million on her negligence claims. Both of those cases are on appeal.
In a statement, DuPont vowed to also seek review of the Vigneron verdict.
“We believe the verdict was the result of trial rulings that misrepresented the findings of an independent science panel and misled jurors about the risks of C8 exposure,” the company said.
Robert A. Bilott, of Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Cincinnati, was Vigneron’s attorney.
“The jury has sent a strong message that we hope DuPont will listen to,” Bilott said in an email.
Of the 3,500 pending cases, 75 percent allege personal injury claims associated with high cholesterol and thyroid disease, and 10 percent involve claims that C8 in drinking water caused cancer, according to DuPont’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company estimates that 30 of the pending lawsuits allege wrongful death.
DuPont has denied all allegations against it and has vowed to “vigorously defend” itself against the claims.
DuPont has said that it would seek reimbursement for damages and environmental penalties from The Chemours Co., which gained control of the Washington Works plant in a spinoff from DuPont in 2014.
A separation agreement between the two companies requires Chemours to indemnify DuPont under certain circumstances. But Chemours, also headquartered in Wilmington, has said that it would contest potential indemnification claims related to the MDL.
“As previously disclosed, DuPont is the named defendant in each of the cases and is liable for any judgment. In the event DuPont claims it is entitled to indemnification from Chemours as to some or all of the judgment, Chemours retains its defenses to such claims,” company spokeswoman Cynthia Salitsky said in a statement Thursday.
DuPont could also be responsible for paying Vigneron’s attorney fees. A plaintiff in one of the previous cases is asking for $6.9 million in fees and costs, according to court documents.
In 2001, DuPont reached a settlement with 80,000 residents near the Washington Works plant that resulted in a $70 million payment to class members and a $23 million charge for attorney fees. And a scientific panel determined in 2013 that DuPont must fund up to $235 million in medical monitoring, in addition to administrative costs and legal fees.
The company is also subject to environmental laws and regulations that would require it to undertake investigative, remediation and restoration efforts in the affected area.
DuPont has so far set aside at least $492 million to deal with environmental contingencies, which it said could require payments over the course of 15 to 20 years. But DuPont’s potential liability could increase to more than $1 billion over that amount, the company said in an SEC filing.