W. Va. Jury Issues Verdict in DuPont Lawsuit

October 3, 2007

A Harrison County, W. Va., jury says DuPont was negligent in creating a 112-acre waste site tainted with arsenic, cadmium and lead.

The jury started deliberations Monday to determine whether chemical maker DuPont was negligent and jurors sided with the claims of 10 West Virginians who argued the chemical maker should clean up the mess and perhaps compensate residents who now fear for their health.

Jurors also found DuPont created a public nuisance and decided that the company should be held strictly liable for exposing residents to the toxins.

The class-action lawsuit against Delaware-based DuPont and New York-based T.L. Diamond & Co., charges the companies with deliberately creating the waste site in the small town of Spelter, W. Va., endangering the health of area residents. The lawsuit seeks long-term medical monitoring, property damages and punitive damages.

A seven-page form asked jurors to decide whether DuPont was negligent in causing or contributing to the contamination of the site and several residential areas around it.

Having determined DuPont and Diamond are responsible for the pollution, a second phase of the Circuit Court trial will determine if the plaintiffs deserve medical monitoring. That part of the case would begin immediately and likely last two to three days.

Regardless of how the medical monitoring phase ends, a third phase of the class-action lawsuit will address property damage claims, while the final phase will focus on whether DuPont’s conduct merits additional punitive damages.

The plaintiffs have argued the companies knew their waste products were dangerous and acted with negligence, while DuPont and Diamond denied wrongdoing.

Defense attorneys argued last week that DuPont had already fulfilled its responsibility to Spelter, working with state environmental officials to destroy the old factory buildings, then cap the waste pile with a plastic cap and layers of fresh earth so it might someday be redeveloped.

Diamond ran the plant from 1975 to 2001, when regulators recommended the site be declared an imminent and substantial threat to public health. DuPont, which has been involved with the property since 1899 when it bought the land for a gunpowder mill, reassumed ownership when the zinc plant closed.

While Diamond is a defendant, the company isn’t actively participating in the trial. The judge in the case ruled previously that DuPont is responsible for Diamond’s conduct because of the 2001 sales agreement.

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