Feb 12 (Reuters) - DuPont has obtained preliminary approval to settle class action claims that the company's widely used Imprelis herbicide killed thousands of trees.
U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter tentatively approved the agreement in an order filed on Tuesday, noting that the deal could affect at least tens of thousands of customers.
DuPont introduced Imprelis in 2010 as a new herbicide to control weeds in recreational areas such as golf courses and commercial properties such as sod farms.
After customers reported damage to evergreens linked to Imprelis, the Environmental Protection Agency began investigating the herbicide. Numerous lawsuits were filed, and the EPA in August 2011 halted sales of the product.
The agency said DuPont submitted more than 7,000 reports of damage or death to such trees as Norway spruce and white pine, as well as test data confirming a link between Imprelis and tree damage.
The Wilmington, Delaware-based chemicals company set up its own claims resolution process in September 2011, but customers continued to pursue lawsuits accusing the company of consumer fraud, negligence and product liability, among other claims.
Under the settlement agreement, DuPont will pay property owners to remove and replace the damaged trees and cover other losses. Businesses that applied the herbicide to others' property will be compensated for customer site visits and other expenses.
The settlement also provides up to $7 million in attorney's fees and costs for the plaintiffs' lawyers that brought the suits on behalf of customers.
DuPont spokesman Gregg Schmidt said in an email that the company was pleased with the ruling.
"Our focus has been and continues to be addressing the issues and needs of those affected fairly and accurately," he said.
A fairness hearing to determine whether the agreement should receive final approval is scheduled for Sept. 27.
The multidistrict litigation is In Re: Imprelis Herbicide Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 11-md-2284.