Last year, a jury returned a verdict for $196.2 million in punitive damages against DuPont in the final phase of a trial in which 7,000 Harrison County, West Virginia residents claimed that DuPont injured them and contaminated their property by releasing substances including cadmium, arsenic, and lead at its zinc smelting site. The jury also awarded $55.5 million for the plaintiffs’ property damage claims and approved a medical monitoring program.
DuPont’s efforts to overturn the jury’s determinations through post-trial motions have not been successful. Here are the relevant orders entered by the Circuit Court of Harrison County on February 25:
The plaintiffs presented evidence regarding the medical monitoring plan at a hearing in January, and offered the testimony of a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine, a certified life care planner, and a forensic economist. DuPont offered the testimony of a certified public accountant, who had expertise in projecting future medical costs. But as the following footnote in the medical monitoring order makes painfully clear, DuPont would have been better off without any expert testimony:
Of the plethera [sic] of witnesses that testified at the scores of hearings and trial in this matter, the Court finds Mr. Meneberg [DuPont’s expert] to be the least credible of all. It is clear that if one has the money, Mr. Meneberg will provide an opinion whether it is within his field of expertise or not and whether there is any factual or professional basis for the opinion or not. In the sixteen years as a sitting trial judge, Mr. Meneberg is the biggest ‘hack’ to have testified before this Court.
The order approving the medical monitoring plan provides that the plan will be reviewed every five years, will have a duration of 40 years (during which the circuit court will retain jurisdiction), will cost $129,625,819.00, and will be funded on a “pay as you go” approach, which had been advocated by DuPont, rather than on the fully-funded basis that the plaintiffs had wanted. Under the “pay as you go” approach, DuPont will make payments, which will be escrowed, then disbursed and replenished, as the plan proceeds, depending upon such factors as participation and cost, rather than pay for the entire cost of the plan at the outset.
The circuit court also awarded the plaintiffs attorneys’ fees of $127,108,410.64 and expenses of $7,904,646.65 from the common fund of $381,363,341.25 (which consists of the total of the cost of the medical monitoring plan, the punitive damages award, and the property damage award). Also, in its order, the circuit court denied the class representatives’ motion for incentive payments to each one (there are 10) of $75,000.00 for their “cooperation and assistance,” which would have come from the common fund. However, the Associated Press reported earlier this month that, at the plaintiffs’ counsel’s request, the circuit court reconsidered and approved an incentive payment of $50,000 to each class representative, with the funds to be paid from the attorneys’ fees rather than the common fund.
DuPont is appealing the verdicts and the post-trial rulings, according to this statement from its general counsel, Stacey J. Mobley. I will confirm the status of DuPont’s petition for appeal, and post the petition and the plaintiffs’ response as soon as they are forwarded to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court’s Spring Term ends on June 26, which means that the appeal, if granted, will not be argued and decided until the Fall Term.