WINFIELD, W.Va. -- A Virginia attorney representing a group of class members tried to persuade a judge to throw out a proposed multimillion-dollar settlement in the Monsanto dioxin class-action lawsuit Monday. Meanwhile, a Charleston attorney who has been appointed administrator to oversee implementation of the settlement said he is ready to proceed.
Thomas Urban, an Arlington, Va., attorney, said the tentative deal is a result of "collusion" and isn't sufficient compared to the relief originally sought.
"Even if there's only a 1 percent chance [of winning at trial] ... it's worth much more than this," Urban said. "There's a good chance the case can be won."
Stuart Calwell, the lead plaintiff's attorney, told the Gazette that Urban's objections are a ploy to get money, and that Urban had written Monsanto attorneys an email stating that "if they paid him $2 million, he wouldn't object to the settlement."
Monsanto lawyer Charlie Love confirmed the email from Urban.
Urban said Monsanto attorneys had asked him, after rejecting several of his suggestions, what it would take to make him satisfied with the settlement. He said he regretted sending the email, but only meant to help his clients.
"My co-counsel and I felt at the time if we could get something for our clients we could go on with life," Urban told the Gazette.
"They said, 'We won't negotiate terms for the whole class for you, but we'll give your clients something separate.' I didn't want to do that necessarily, but I have an obligation to my clients," Urban said. "Luckily, Monsanto rejected the deal...at that point I said 'this settlement is so bad I need to challenge it.'"
Under the tentative agreement, reached after nearly a decade of litigation, chemical giant Monsanto will provide class members up to $93 million. The company has agreed to a 30-year medical monitoring program with a primary fund of $21 million for testing, and up to $63 million in additional funding, if necessary. The settlement also provides $9 million to clean 4,500 homes.
Before an agreement in a class-action lawsuit is finalized, the members of the class must be notified of the proposed settlement and be given a chance to object to its terms.
Circuit Judge Derek Swope listened to people who object to and are in favor of the settlement on Monday. He must decide if the settlement reached in February is fair, reasonable and adequate.
Tom Flaherty, a Charleston attorney who previously mediated the case and was appointed administrator of the medical monitoring program and clean-up plan, told Swope how he intended to execute the settlement.
Flaherty said he would open a location in Nitro where class members will know, "Hey, this is where I come to get benefits." If necessary, he said, his staff would organize town meetings and transportation arrangements to encourage participation.