Individual personal injury suits are accumulating against DuPont for health conditions that have been linked to C8 exposure.
More than two dozen area residents have filed cases against the Washington, W.Va., manufacturing plant since an independent three-member science panel released its final findings three months ago, showing a connection between C8 used by the plant and seven ailments, said Charleston, W. Va., attorney Kathy Brown.
"These men and women have compelling stories to tell about how C8 has hurt them," said Brown, who has filed 18 cases on behalf of Ohio clients and seven on behalf of West Virginians. Eleven of those cases involve Washington County residents.
The individual suits differ from the class action lawsuit filed against DuPont in 2001, which resulted in the formation of the C8 science panel to further research causality between the chemical and a long list of ailments, said Marietta attorney Ethan Vessels.
"Each case is tailored to its own facts. Pursuing individual suits gives us the best shot at the best results for each individual," he said.
Though DuPont settled the class action case in 2005, there was an understanding in place that individual civil suits would be put on hold until the science panel released definitive health-related findings, said Akron attorney Greg Collins, who is working with Vessels to represent area residents.
At a glance
More than two dozen personal injury suits have been filed against DuPont, the Washington, W.Va., manufacturing plant accused of allowing hazardous C8 to leak into area water supplies.
The six affected districts include Little Hocking, Belpre, Pomeroy, and Tuppers Plains in Ohio, as well as Lubeck Public Service District and Mason County Public Service District in West Virginia.
An independent three-member science panel released its final findings in October, linking the chemical to seven diseases: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerated colitis, preeclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Anyone who lived or worked in one of the affected districts for more than a year prior to 2004 and has experienced one of the seven health conditions could potentially file a claim.
DuPont, which has said it will vigorously defend against the lawsuits, has filed a motion for all of the suits to be heard by a single judge, either in an Ohio or West Virginia federal court.
The science panel released its final report in October, ultimately saying there were probable links between the chemical and seven ailments: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerated colitis, preeclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
"There is no longer an issue as to whether C8 causes kidney cancer. That's established now," said Collins.
But that probable connection was not established five years ago, when Vincent resident Linda Davis, 64, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At the time, it did not even cross her mind that her illness could be related to C8 contamination, she said.
"I was just so shocked that nothing really occurred to me," recalled Davis.
Davis, who has also suffered from thyroid disease for several years, has since had her right kidney removed and is coping with third stage kidney failure in her left.
For a while Davis saw a kidney specialist, but when her husband lost his job, Davis no longer had insurance and couldn't see her doctor.
"It's been hard. It's kind of messed up my whole life," she said.
It was not until she read the science panel's final report, linking C8 to specific ailments, that Davis even speculated there might be a connection, she said.
"When they finally announced the things that were caused by C8 and I had two or three of them, it dawned on me - well it must have some connection to me," said Davis.
Davis reached out to Brown for advice, and now her case is one of 26 personal injury lawsuits filed against DuPont, said Brown.
And personal injury claims do not show any signs of slowing down, said attorneys.
"It's more than we had anticipated," said Vessels, citing the interest shown by potential plaintiffs against DuPont.
Brown, who has been holding town hall meetings in the affected areas, noted that there is no way to anticipate the number of potential plaintiffs because of the time frame and scope of the C8 contamination.
C8, also known as perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, has been used by DuPont since the 1950s in the manufacturing of products such as Teflon, oil-resistant paper packaging, and protective finishes on carpets.
Prior to the installation of filtration systems in 2004, the chemical had contaminated six area water supplies, including Little Hocking, Belpre, Pomeroy and Tuppers Plains in Ohio, as well as Lubeck Public Service District and Mason County Public Service District in West Virginia, said Brown.
"If someone's family member died 10 years ago from kidney cancer, they potentially still have a claim," she noted.
Brown is already representing one client in a wrongful death suit. The client lost her husband to kidney cancer in 2008, she said.
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said in a statement DuPont would "vigorously defend against any and all such lawsuits not based upon valid science."
"Lawsuits such as these ignore family history and lifestyle choices as a primary cause of health issues and disease in specific individuals," he said.
DuPont has also filed a motion to establish a multi litigation venue, which would mean all of the cases are heard by the same judge in a federal court either in Ohio or West Virginia. That decision will not be ruled on until March, said Brown.