DuPont to Pay $1.25 Million for Injuries From Kentucky Chemical Plant

July 16, 2009

A federal jury has ordered DuPont to pay more than $1.25 million to six people who were injured when fuming sulfuric acid spilled from an eastern Kentucky plant five years ago.

The jury found DuPont liable for skin burns, eye irritation and respiratory and eye problems sustained by neighbors of the company’s plant in Wurtland, Ky., in Greenup County.

The leak happened Oct. 11, 2004, and stemmed from a cracked pipe at the plant, about 125 miles east of Covington. It resulted in sulfur trioxide, a chemical that formed white clouds composed of tiny droplets of sulfuric acid, being released into the air.

The injured ranged in age from 18 months to 80 years old at the time of the spill. DuPont argued that it gave warnings to neighbors about the leak and was not responsible for any injuries.

Louise Roselle, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said she’s unsure what the key to the case is because attorneys are not allowed to speak with jurors after a federal trial. But, Roselle said, having an emergency room doctor, a physician who treated the residents and the injured residents testifying appears to have helped.

“The jury obviously thought our evidence was credible,” Roselle said. “This verdict vindicates the men, women and children of Greenup County, who suffered at the hands of DuPont and live in fear of another release.”

A message left after hours for a DuPont spokesman was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit is being tried in four phases. The decision sets the stage for another 173 people who sued DuPont over the leak to collect damages. The trial, concluded Monday, determined liability for the leak and whether DuPont should have to pay punitive damages for all the plaintiffs. The remaining cases will focus on the amount of damages to be awarded.

Jurors awarded just under $130,000 in compensatory damages for past and future medical bills, then awarded 10-times the compensatory damages as a punitive award for the plaintiffs. Under a ruling by U.S. District Judge David Bunning, DuPont cannot appeal the verdict until all 179 plaintiffs’ claims are resolved.

Roselle said no trial date for the other cases has been set, but Bunning has indicated he’s looking for the second trial to take place in October.

DuPont also experienced a 1995 leak in which 23,800 gallons of sulfuric acid escaped into the air and more than 1,000 people were evacuated. For the accident, DuPont agreed, among other things, to pay the Department of Justice and the EPA $1.5 million.

The company also faces litigation in the 1995 spill case.

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