Source: Decatur Daily (AL), May 12, 2017
Posted on: http://www.advisen.com
With a $5 million settlement from one local company approved in federal court, attorneys for rural water customers impacted by chemical contamination on the Tennessee River are preparing for a legal battle with industrial giant 3M Co.
“We can now, on behalf of everyone harmed by these chemicals, take dead aim at the biggest corporate villain in the Tennessee Valley, 3M, and work aggressively to hold them accountable,” said Decatur attorney Carl Cole.
His statement came less than an hour after a federal judge approved a $5 million payment Wednesday for Daikin America Inc. to settle its portion of the lawsuit brought on behalf of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and its customers.
The settlement provides $3.9 million for the water authority to pay for a temporary filtration system to remove the industrial chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) and related industrial chemicals from its water.
It also provides $450,000 in water-bill credits to reimburse the more than 10,000 customers who paid water bills during a no-drink warning last year, when PFOS and PFOA levels exceeded recommended levels in an Environmental Protection Agency health advisory.
Another $550,000 will go to the three law firms representing the water authority and its customers — The Cole Law Firm in Decatur, the Fiedman, Dazzio, Zulanas and Bowling Law Firm in Birmingham and the Davis and Whitlock Environmental Law Firm in Asheville, North Carolina.
In approving the settlement, which Daikin agreed to in September, District Judge Abdul Kallon defined the class of plaintiffs as anyone who owned or possessed property served by the water authority as of Feb. 21, 2017. That includes some customers of the VAW Water System, the Falkville Water Works, the Trinity Water Works, the Town Creek Water System, and the West Lawrence Water Cooperative, each of which have purchased water from West Morgan-East Lawrence for some customers.
Kallon rejected the objections of roughly 300 people alleged to be part of the class.
Will Lattimore, an attorney at Gathings Law in Birmingham, which represented the group, said the objection was based on a possible conflict of interest, because the attorneys for the class also represented the water authority, when more than 400 members of the class had sued the water authority over the contamination in other lawsuits. They also argued the settlement failed to adequately compensate plaintiffs for emotional distress. Lattimore said they have not decided whether they will appeal.
The Daikin settlement leaves 3M — which has a facility on State Docks Road in Decatur — and its subsidiary, Dyneon LLC, as the only defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages and other relief, alleging the manufacturer’s reckless handling of PFOA and PFOS contaminated the Tennessee River at the authority’s raw water intake.
The court has scheduled a jury trial for Oct. 9, 2018.
Noting Daikin was responsible for only about 5 percent of the river contamination, Cole said the plaintiffs’ legal team plans to do everything it can to keep the case on schedule, but he expects stalling tactics.
“I anticipate that 3M will do what they have done in every other case, which is fight every minute issue and delay every chance they get, but we’re going to do everything we can to keep that court date,” he said.
In a similar case brought against 3M by the state of Minnesota, 3M’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to disqualify the state’s legal counsel took four years to resolve.
Cole estimated the local plaintiffs’ chances of making the 2018 trial date to be “50-50.”
“It’s not like they can’t afford to pay lawyers to drag stuff out,” he said.
In its 2016 annual report, 3M reported $30.1 billion in revenue worldwide.
In a statement, 3M’s legal counsel, William Brewer III, declined to comment on Daikin’s settlement but said defense counselors believe 3M “acted responsibly at all times.”
“We believe that any claims brought against the company relating to these issues simply lack merit,” Brewer said. “3M ceased manufacturing these chemicals in Decatur more than a decade ago. Since that time, 3M has worked closely with state regulators to help address the environmental presence of these materials.”
Brewer said 3M does not believe the chemicals are dangerous at the level found in the local environment.
Health risks associated with PFOA and PFOS include cancer, liver damage, immune system effects, thyroid effects, and cholesterol changes, according to the EPA, which notes most people have been exposed to the chemicals, but their presence in drinking water can be an additional source.