By JESS MANCINI
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A federal jury deliberating punitive damages Thursday awarded $10.5 million to Kenneth Vigneron Sr., 56, of Vincent, a plaintiff in a C8 lawsuit against DuPont.
The award, the largest to date, follows the $2 million in compensatory damages the same jury in December awarded to Vigneron Sr., who also was awarded attorneys fees yet to be determined. The case and others from the C8 class against the chemical maker are being heard in U.S. District Court in Columbus.
“The jury sent DuPont a strong message with its punitive damage verdict,”said Harry Deitzler, an attorney representing Vigneron. Deitzler also represented the plaintiffs in the original C8 class action suit against DuPont, which resulted in the creation of a science panel that studied the health data of more than 70,000 residents in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
C8, also known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, was once used to make Teflon at the DuPont Washington Works, now owned by Chemours, the company created in a spinoff from DuPont. The science panel found a probable link between C8 and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy induced hypertension, including preeclampsia, and hypercholesterolemia in humans.
Vigneron said he acquired testicular cancer because of exposure from C8 in the Belpre and Little Hocking water supplies. Vigneron’s case was considered a bellwether trial in the 3,500 lawsuits in the C8 class. A bellwether case includes issues shared among cases in the class and could indicate what might happen in other trials.
Two other bellwether cases have also resulted in verdicts against the company.
Carla Marie Bartlett, the first plaintiff whose case went to trial, was awarded $1.6 million – $1.1 million for negligence and $500,000 for emotional distress. David Freeman received $5.1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive.
DuPont settled two other bellwhether cases, and a suit filed by Larry Moody is scheduled for trial this month.
Dan Turner, a spokesman for DuPont, said the company was disappointed.
“We are disappointed in the verdict, which we will appeal,” he said. “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.”
Most of the cases do not allege cancer, Chemours spokeswoman Cynthia Salitsky said.
“We expect DuPont to appeal the verdict, subject to post-trial motions, to address important, unresolved issues that affect the broader, ongoing multi-district litigation (MDL),” she said. “Of the 3,500 claims in the MDL, the majority allege high cholesterol and thyroid disease, not cancer diagnoses. Each of these claims will be evaluated on an individual basis due to the unique facts present in every case. Litigation of this kind typically takes place over many years, and interim results do not predict the ultimate outcome.
“As previously disclosed, DuPont is the named defendant in each of the cases and is liable for any judgment,” Salitsky said. “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.”
DuPont has attempted to disavow all responsibility and has done everything it can to make life miserable for innocent victims seeking compensation, according to Vigneron attorney Gary J. Douglas. The company must do more than clean up a mess it created, or the same thing will happen again, not only with DuPont, but with all corporations, he said.
“Teach them a lesson of decency, please,” Douglas told the jury, according to a statement from Deitzler.
Among the evidence at trial, presided over by Judge Edmund A. Sargus, were documents from DuPont from more than 30 years ago indicating the company had knowledge of the effects of C8 in the body.
“DuPont’s decades-long, dangerous history with Teflon is finally starting to stick,” said Harold Bock, an adviser for Keep Your Promises DuPont, an organization created to ensure DuPont remains liable for any damages caused from C8 contamination.
“With Kenneth’s punitive damages award, two separate juries have now ruled that DuPont acted with malice and conscious disregard for Mid-Ohio Valley residents in dumping C-8 into our drinking water. We now know that not only was the company aware of the dangers of C-8, but that they also knew the chemical was contaminating local drinking water at harmful levels,” Bock said. “Despite this knowledge, and the availability of cheap, alternative disposal methods, DuPont continued to poison surrounding communities, deny any harm, and cover up the evidence.”
The award drives up the potential for settlements in the billions of dollars, said Mark Fleischman, president of the Action Network, which is affiliated with Keep Your Promises DuPont. Another 40 cases have been scheduled for trial this year, he said
“I’m talking with a ‘B,’” Fleischman said.
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