Jury tells DuPont to pay man $10M+ for cancer; 3,500 Teflon cases ahead
Can the company still afford Dow merger?
A federal jury in Columbus, Ohio, told DuPont Co. to pay truck driver Keith Vigneron $10.5 million in punitive damages, atop $2 million it awarded last month to compensate for Vigneron's testicular cancer, which his lawyers blamed on pollution from a factory where DuPont made Teflon components in Parkersburg, W.Va.
Shares of DuPont and its spinoff Chemours, which now operates the plant, each fell more than 1 percent in trading after the verdict. Both are based in Wilmington. The verdict underlines the liabilities facing DuPont as CEO Edward Breen tries to consummate his planned merger with Dow Chemical Co., and their proposed break-up into separate pesticide, materials and specialty firms. DuPont closed at $73.81, down half a percent, while Chemours closed at at $21.88, down 1.5 percent.
"We are disappointed in the verdict, which we will appeal," DuPont spokesman Daniel Turner said. "We believe the verdict was the result of trial rulings that misrepresented the findings of an independent science panel and misled jurors about the risks" from perflurooctanic acid (PFOA, C8) formerly used to produce Teflon at Parkersburg.
"We expect DuPont to appeal," affirmed Cynthia Salitsky, a spokeswoman for Chemours, the DuPont spin-off that now owns the Parkersburg plant. She noted that DuPont faces 3,500 related legal claims, but that "the majority allege high cholesterol and thyroid disease, not cancer," and that it could take years to resolve them.
Salitsky added that DuPont "is liable for any judgment." In a statement, Chemours said it "retained defenses if DuPont argued it was entitled to indemnification." Even so, Citigroup analyst P.J. Jukevar wrote in a report to clients that Chemours may have to set aside more to pay damages.
The lawsuits allege that DuPont knew the chemical was dangerous to people but failed to take effective steps to keep waste from poisoning the area water supply. Vigneron lived in Washington County, Ohio, across the Ohio River from Parkersburg.
DuPont lawyers had told jurors the company fixed the problem — it changed production methods, and paid to build public water filtration systems and to conduct medical studies linking cancer to the chemicals formerly used in Teflon production — and that it shouldn't have to pay millions more as punishment.
Citing Vigneron and an earlier case, "two separate juries have now ruled that DuPont acted with malice and conscious disregard for mid-Ohio Valley residents in dumping C-8 into our drinking water," said Harold Bock, adviser to Keep Your Promises Ohio, a nonprofit pressure group, backed by plaintiff's attorneys and charities, that has pushed DuPont to pay people who said they were poisoned by Teflon waste.
"We now know that not only was the company aware of the dangers of C-8, but that they also knew the chemical was contaminating local drinking water," Bock added. "We hope that it will deter DuPont from this sort of egregious misconduct."
Among other litigation, DuPont also faces a $1 billion lawsuit by the township of Carneys Point, N.J., which says residents faced long-term threats from toxins deposited, vented and dumped by DuPont over more than 100 years at its sprawling works in nearby Deepwater, N.J., which, like Parkersburg, is now operated by Chemours.