Doe Run Settles Lead Liability Cases in Missouri

By DAVID A. LIEB | September 19, 2013

Just days after it won a stronger legal shield from Missouri lawmakers, The Doe Run Lead Co. has settled several lawsuits alleging children suffered health problems from lead contamination in St. Francois County.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs and Doe Run both confirmed Tuesday they had resolved the cases in advance of an Oct. 8 trial in St. Louis. A confidentiality agreement bars disclosure of the settlement terms, including how much money the families will get, attorneys said.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Maurice Graham said the cases involving seven children were resolved last Friday. That was just two days after the Legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill limiting large punitive damage awards against Doe Run for claims stemming from old lead mining operations.

The new Missouri law will bar any punitive damages related to mining sites that ceased operating before 1975, so long as the owners are making “good faith efforts” to clean them up. If not, then punitive damages are capped at $2.5 million.

Doe Run mounted a heavy lobbying campaign to secure the veto override. The St. Louis-based company, which employs about 1,600 people in eastern Missouri, told lawmakers the legal protections were needed to ensure it wouldn’t be forced out of business by a potential jury award of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nixon had said the measure violates the state constitution by retroactively limiting court judgments and creating a special law benefiting only particular defendants.

Lawmakers overrode his veto Wednesday by a 110-50 House vote and a 26-8 Senate vote.

The lawsuits alleged that chat piles from old lead mining operations had exposed children to damaging levels of lead and other toxic substances that caused physical and psychological problems, including learning disabilities.

Graham said settlement talks had been going on for several weeks before the veto override and that the timing of the settlement was coincidental. He said the plaintiffs were satisfied with the compensation they will receive and wanted to avoid the expense and uncertainty of a trial.

Matt Wohl, Doe Run’s vice president of law, said in a written statement that the company “is pleased to have been able to resolve these cases” but wouldn’t comment further.

Graham said claims are still pending for 16 additional plaintiffs, but no trial date has been set. As part of those cases, Graham said he plans to file a legal challenge against the new punitive damages cap.

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