DuPont Fined $196.2M In Class-Action Suit

dupont gavel trial settlement court generic CBS/AP

DuPont was found guilty of wanton, willful and reckless conduct and ordered to pay $196.2 million in punitive damages at the end of the final phase of a complex trial Friday.

When combined with previous verdicts in earlier phases of the same trial, the jury awards against DuPont now total nearly $400 million.

The Harrison County Circuit Court case concerned the dangers surrounding the waste from a former zinc-smelting plant in Spelter. Ten residents sued the chemical giant in a four-part trial involving property damage claims, long-term health screenings and corporate accountability.

Plaintiff Waunona Crouser said the three years since the class-action lawsuit was filed have been stressful but she never doubted the 11-member jury would do the right thing.

"They're West Virginians and that's how we are in the state of West Virginia. We watch each other's backs. We don't let people do this to us."

Fellow plaintiff Rebeccah Morlock said she's gone through "a lot of emotions - anger, sadness - but now I'm elated. We stopped this company from coming in here and doing this," she said. "You can't come here to our state and just dump your garbage and poison our kids and ruin our health and just leave us behind and forget we even existed. You'll get punished for it."

Crouser, Morlock and the other plaintiffs won the first phase of their case Oct. 1, when jurors found DuPont liable for and negligent in creating the waste site. They also found DuPont had created a public and private nuisance and that its pollution trespassed onto private property.

econd phase of the trial, the jury required DuPont to provide medical monitoring for 40 years to people who were exposed to the arsenic, cadmium and lead. Judge Thomas Bedell will determine how the plan will be administered.

On Monday, jurors decided DuPont should pay about $55.5 million to clean up private properties.

Following the conclusion of the fourth and final phase of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs celebrated with a cake in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Lenora Perrine, the 74-year-old lead plaintiff who sat at the attorneys' table every day for the past month joyously hugged her neighbors and her lawyers.

"I'm old, and ya know it's not gonna affect me that much, but the little children and the young people in the communities, that's my interest. It might not help me, but it will help them."

"I was certain I was doing the right thing, but you never know if you're going to win 'til the jury comes in. I thank the jury for seeing that our community was contaminated ... I do thank God for it all."

Perrine's daughter, Sandy Holepit, had this to say about her approximately 5-foot-tall mother: "Lenora Perrine is a 'little people' in the minds of corporate and political America, but in the minds of all us 'little people' - the ones who made this country - she is an 8-foot-tall American hero."

DuPont lawyer Jeffrey Hall said he is deeply disappointed with the verdict.

"DuPont last owned this property in 1950. Forty-six years later, DuPont came back. It alone, among all the prior owners of this property, worked with the DEP, cleaned up the property, and helped the community," he said. "We will appeal."

DuPont general counsel Stacey Mobley said the verdict could discourage companies from voluntarily cleaning up waste sites.

"This outcome could have a chilling effect on brownfields remediation and restoration across the United States," Mobley said.
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