Mid Ohio Valley residents with health problems linked to C8 exposure may soon have their own days in court.
A Charleston, West Virginia attorney has filed the first three C8 personal injury lawsuits. It is the start of what could potentially be thousands of cases in the aftermath of an epidemiological study that established probable links between C8 exposure and several different types of human disease.
It all came about as the result of a class action lawsuit filed in Wood County Circuit Court by area residents against DuPont over the contamination of local water supplies with the manufacturing chemical C8, otherwise known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid. The controversial substance has been used in the production of Teflon and other consumer applications at DuPont Washington Works near Parkersburg, West Virginia since the 1950s. In 2002, local water consumers in several Ohio communities including Belpre, Tuppers Plains, Little Hocking and Pomeroy discovered that the substance had made its way into their wells and aquifers. The contamination was also found in public water supplies in Lubeck and Mason County, West Virginia.
Last December, the C8 Science Panel linked C8 to pregnancy-induced hypertension. In April, the panel linked the manmade substance to kidney and testicular cancer. In July, the panel linked C8 to thyroid disease and ulcerated colitis. The C8 Science Panel is expected to release their final findings on October 29.
Consequently, a medical panel has been appointed to decide what monitoring or screening might be appropriate for members of the class in light of the findings. In the meantime, class members who suffer from diseases linked to C8 are free to proceed with their own personal injury claims against DuPont. The class action settlement agreement indicates that DuPont may not dispute that C8 can cause the specific diseases which the C8 Science Panel has linked to exposure.
Attorney Kathy Brown, who this week filed three personal injury suits on behalf of area residents, explained that with the class action coming to an end impacted residents are seeking justice for themselves.
"This is entirely different from the earlier class-action lawsuit. This is so different that these personal injury claims were specifically separated and carved out from the class-action seven years ago," Brown said. "These lawsuits are for people who have one of those reported diseases and are seeking justice. My co-counsel and I are continuing to screen cases and talk to people throughout the area about their injuries and what remedies they may have."
One of those suits was filed for Virginia Morrison on behalf of her husband who died of injuries related to kidney cancer in 2008.
"We lived on DuPont Road for years," Morrison said. "Only this year did we find out that the water we were drinking may have made my husband sick."
The other two lawsuits claim injuries involving thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis.
Brown is working with the law firm of Cory Watson Crowder & DeGaris of Birmingham, Alabama. She has scheduled a series of town hall meetings this month to give residents information about their legal rights. On October 28, at 1 pm a meeting is scheduled in Point Pleasant, West Virginia at the Lowe Hotel on Main Street. At 4 pm there will be a town hall at the Riverside Golf Club in Pomeroy, Ohio. On October 29, at 2 pm a meeting will be held at the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department on Stone Road. At 6 pm there will be a final session at the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department on Harris Highway.
"Where you now live does not matter if you were exposed to the potentially contaminated water from any of those areas for at least one year prior to December 3, 2004. If you did live there and you have suffered or are suffering from any of the conditions which the Science Panel has linked to C8, you should contact a lawyer to explore your rights," said J.C. Conlin, lead attorney handling the matter on behalf of Cory Watson.
Attorneys representing the class members in the C8 class action lawsuit are not pleased with Brown’s outreach.
“For what it’s worth, the folks who put out that press release have never previously participated in a single C8 case anywhere,” said class counsel Harry Deitzler. “They are out of town Alabama lawyers fronted by a neophyte Charleston attorney whose only claim to fame is that she is a former TV newscaster.”
Deitlzer said only three law firms have been designated by the court to represent class members in the C8 class action litigation. They include: Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler of Parkersburg and Charleston, Taft, Stettinius & Hollister of Cincinnati, and Winter & Johnson of Charleston.
However, Conlin insists that the class portion of the litigation is at an end. And, while the class action resulted in the C8 Health Study, the C8 Science Panel, water filtration systems, and medical monitoring, it does not cover personal injuries.
“For people who have an injury, the responsibility is on them to seek counsel,” Conlin explained. “They are not limited in who they can see or who can help them.”