The Right to Clean Water

Transform your expectations of ‘big-law’: Representation, retribution and repairs 17 years in the making.

A cattle farmer, the EPA and 70,000 individuals in West Virginia and Ohio took action against chemical giant DuPont for releasing a dangerous pollutant into the water and environment. Taft’s environmental and litigation lawyers championed the residents’ rights to safe, clean drinking water for over 17 years. First, the Taft team secured a favorable settlement of class-wide claims in 2004. Next, they assisted the EPA in investigations that led to a nationwide phase-out of the chemical in 2006. Finally, Taft secured a global settlement in principle of thousands of pending individual class member personal injury claims in 2017.

The Challenge

What started as a federal suit against DuPont for the chemical contamination of one cattle farmer’s property in West Virginia led to a national chemical phase-out and multi-district litigation involving thousands of individual personal injury claims. Taft discovered the defendant was not only aware of the risks caused by its release of the chemical into the air and drinking water but had actually concealed its knowledge from the people in the exposed communities for decades. With lives in the balance, Taft helped tens of thousands of people in those communities take a stand.

Taft in Action

Taft dove deep into discovery, following every lead. After relentless research and review, Taft found DuPont was knowingly releasing the dangerous, albeit generally unlisted and unregulated, chemical PFOA (also known as C-8) into the water and environment of the communities surrounding its manufacturing plant in Wood County, West Virginia.

Taft’s attorneys notified state and federal regulatory agencies of the toxicity of the chemical and were asked to help the community address the contamination through class action litigation against DuPont. That class action eventually included approximately 70,000 customers of six public water districts in West Virginia and Ohio and users of dozens of private wells whose water was contaminated with PFOA. Through an innovative settlement of the class claims in 2004, Taft and co-counsel ensured that the class members received clean water supplies and independent scientific analysis of health risks associated with the class member exposures to PFOA, including a provision for medical monitoring of the class members for disease linked to their exposures and preservation of individual class member rights to pursue personal injury and wrongful death claims for such diseases.

After establishing the class-wide medical monitoring program, Taft helped approximately 3,500 of those class members with disease pursue their individual injury claims against DuPont by serving as co-lead counsel in the multi-district litigation proceedings in federal court that were set up to handle those injury cases.

Results & Impact

After Taft alerted the state and federal agencies to the PFOA issue, the EPA negotiated a record-breaking $16.5 million settlement with DuPont over claims that DuPont had not provided the EPA with all of the necessary information about PFOA. In addition, the EPA secured a commitment by DuPont and other major PFOA manufacturers and users to phase out completely the manufacture and use of PFOA in the U.S. As for the class-action lawsuit, DuPont agreed to fund the installation of appropriate water filtration plants and in-home systems and a study of all class members’ health. These tests confirmed the links between PFOA and disease, and DuPont agreed to provide class member medical monitoring resulting in total class member benefits valued in excess of $350 million.

In February 2017, a settlement was announced with DuPont to resolve the existing cases pending in the PFOA personal injury multi-district litigation for $670.7 million in cash. When added to the over $350 million value of class member benefits secured under the earlier class settlement, Taft’s legal team, led by partner Rob Bilott, has helped to obtain over $1 billion in benefits for the communities with PFOA-contaminated drinking water in West Virginia and Ohio.

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