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Court Finds “Substantial Probative Evidence Supports the Jury Verdict” Awarding $1.6 million Against DuPont in Water Contamination Case

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In a 125 page opinion issued February 17, 2016, Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., the judge presiding over the C8 litigation, affirmed the jury verdict awarding $1.6 Million to Mrs. Carla Bartlett.  DuPont requested a new trial which Judge Sargus denied.  “Indeed, the Court finds substantial probative evidence supports the jury verdict. Consequently the Court DENIES DuPont’s request.” (emphasis appears in original). Mrs. Bartlett’s trial against DuPont in Columbus, Ohio began on September 14, 2015.  Mrs. Bartlett presented evidence showing she developed kidney cancer as a result of drinking water contaminated by C8 from DuPont’s Washington Works Plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia.  On October 7, 2015, after a nearly one month trial, the jury awarded Mrs. Bartlett $1.1 million as damages for DuPont’s negligence and $500,000 for the emotional distress the injuries caused Mrs. Bartlett. DuPont immediately filed motions with the court claiming the evidence presented by Mrs. Bartlett’s did not support her claims and that a new trial should be granted to DuPont. DuPont’s motion was denied

In the detailed opinion Judge Sargus discussed some of the specific evidence presented at the trial that supported Mrs. Bartlettt’s claim.  The evidence showed that as early as 1961 DuPont knew that C-8 was toxic and that once dumped into the environment it would remain present for a substantially long time, known as “biopersistence.” Even with this knowledge “DuPont discharged C-8 into the Ohio River, despite its own internal 1991 warning specifically stating that C-8 should not be discharged to surface water” and a 1986 warning that C-8 should only be disposed through incineration or disposal at a proper landfill.”  Further, despite these warnings DuPont released “tens of thousands of pounds of C-8 directly into surface waters, unlined landfills, and the air for years, in ever-increasing amounts, instead of disposing of C-8 in either of these recommended and proper manners.” The evidence also showed that DuPont had access to alternatives to C-8 as early as 1984 but continued to use C-8 and only started properly disposing of C-8 after lawsuits against the company were filed.  Ultimately, the Court determined “the jury was provided substantial competent evidence to support Mrs. Bartlett’s position” that DuPont should have known that releasing C-8 “into surface waters and unlined landfills would likely cause harm to community members” such as Mrs. Bartlett.

In the motion seeking a new trial DuPont also challenged the testimony of the expert witnesses who testified about the dangers and proper handling of C-8. Prior to trial DuPont challenged whether the witnesses could make certain statements during the trial.  Judge Sargus granted portions of DuPont’s motions and limited the testimony the witnesses could give the jury. According to DuPont, these limitations were not enough. In his Opinion, Judge Sargus held that the witnesses for Mrs. Bartlett “are qualified to opine on subjects in which they testified at trial, and that each rendered relevant and reliable expert testimony.”

DuPont also argued that several emails and other documents should not have been seen by the jury or discussed at trial.  The documents included statements from Bernard Reilly, DuPont’s attorney at the time.  In the documents Mr. Reilly states, “[w]e really should not let situations arise like this, we should have used a commercial landfill and let them deal with these issues, instead, the plant tries to save some money…”  DuPont was also aware that it was using incorrect methods to measure C-8 in drinking water.  Per the documents DuPont’s testing had a “very poor recovery, often 25%, so any results we get should be multiplied by a factor of 4 or even 5. However, that has not been the practice, so we have been telling the agencies results that surely are low. Not a pretty situation, especially since we have been telling the drinking water folks not to worry, results have been under the level we deem “safe” of 1 ppb. We now fear we will get data from a better technique that will exceed the number we have touted as safe. Ugh.” DuPont argued prior to trial that these documents should be kept from the jury, but Judge Sargus disagreed and allowed the documents into evidence.  In his post-trial Opinion, Judge Sargus again held that the documents were admissible.

After review of all of DuPont’s claims of why a new trial should be granted, Judge Sargus held that “the jury verdict is not against the weight of the evidence” and that it is one “which reasonably could have been reached.” Further, “the trial was in no way influenced by prejudice or bias” and was not unfair.

DuPont’s final argument was that if it could not get a new trial, Mrs. Bartlett’s $1.6 million jury awarded damages should be reduced.  In 2004 Ohio passed a law meant to limit the damages awards plaintiffs can receive. The Court held that because Mrs. Bartlett’s injuries occurred prior to 2004 the law limiting plaintiff’s recovery’s does not apply to Mrs. Bartlett and the $1.6 million verdict should stand.

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