Read the documents at http://www.perrinedupont.com/
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Harrison County judge will consider today whether to approve a roughly $150 million settlement in which DuPont Co. agrees to pay to clean up contamination of the community of Spelter and fund a program to test residents for any illnesses the pollution might have caused.
Lawyers for about 8,500 residents will ask Circuit Judge Thomas A. Bedell to approve the deal, which would end a six-year-old, class-action lawsuit that prompted a nearly $400 million jury verdict in 2007.
If Bedell signs off, the settlement eliminates the need for another trial -- ordered by the state Supreme Court -- over whether the residents filed their original suit within the legal time limit. The settlement would also protect both sides from the risk, time and expense involved in further litigation, including likely appeals of that second trial's outcome.
"Assuming success at trial, the class would still face a long and difficult path of appellate procedure, including the very real possibility of scrutiny by a United States Supreme Court that appears intent on making substantial revisions to class-action law," attorneys for the residents argued in a brief asking Bedell to approve the deal.
But questions remain about the extent to which the settlement will clean up a legacy of pollution from a DuPont smelter, about the amount of the settlement going to the residents' lawyers and about how a settlement administrator will oversee the deal.
The Spelter site, just north of Clarksburg, was originally a DuPont gunpowder mill that opened in 1899. After that facility burned down, Grasselli chemical Co. built a zinc smelter and a company town. DuPont bought Graselli in 1928 and operated the smelter until 1950, when an internal report showed air-pollution control upgrades would cost $325,000.
In the late 1980s, federal environmental officials began investigate the site. DuPont got involved, eventually repurchased the smelter and steer the cleanup toward the state Department of Environmental Protection's voluntary program, rather than the more stringent federal Superfund program. Residents sued in 2004, alleging that the cleanup was inadequate and that the smelter's pollution put them at increased risk of getting sick.
A Harrison County jury awarded nearly $400 million for property cleanup, medical monitoring and punitive damages. The Supreme Court upheld most of the verdict, but cut the punitive damages and ordered a new trial on the statute of limitations issues.
Under the settlement announced last month, DuPont will pay $70 million and fund a 30-year medical monitoring program that is estimated to cost between $65 million and $90 million.
Of the $70 million payment, $4 million is set aside for cash payments for roughly 6,000 former and current residents who do not own property in the area. Some of that $4 million might also be used to kick-start the medical monitoring program, lawyers in the case have said.
The other $66 million payment is to fund property remediation in the area and to pay the lawyers who represented the residents in the case.
Plaintiffs' attorneys from six different law firms have asked Bedell to approve $30 million in legal fees and nearly $10 million in expenses, or a total of nearly $40 million.