(New throughout, adds background and DuPont statement)
By Jessica Dye and Kathy Lynn Gray
NEW YORK/COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct 7 (Reuters) - A cancer patient prevailed in her lawsuit against DuPont on Wednesday, when a jury awarded her $1.6 million and found the company liable for leaking a toxic chemical used to make Teflon into the drinking water near one of its plants.
Following a three-week trial, jurors in Columbus, Ohio, deliberated for a few hours before finding for plaintiff Carla Marie Bartlett. Hers was the first trial out of about 3,500 plaintiffs who said they contracted one of six diseases linked to perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA or C-8.
Jurors declined to award punitive damages, finding DuPont had not acted maliciously. While DuPont is the named defendant, a recent spin-off of its performance chemicals segment, Chemours Co, will cover DuPont’s liability.
While the outcome of this trial is not binding on the other cases, it is seen as an early test of potential liability for a leak that allegedly lasted decades. A second trial is slated to begin later this year.
The lawsuits center on DuPont’s Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where the company used C-8 as a processing aid to make products including Teflon nonstick cookware. Plaintiffs said DuPont started using C-8 at the plant in the 1950s and continued even after learning it was potentially toxic and had been found in nearby drinking water.
In 2001, residents brought a class action against DuPont over C-8 exposure. DuPont settled in 2004 and agreed to convene a scientific panel to determine whether any diseases were linked to C-8 exposure.
The panel concluded there was a probable link between C-8 and six diseases, including kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease. Class members with one of those diseases then individually sued the company.
Bartlett’s lawsuit said she developed kidney cancer from C-8. DuPont said it believed her cancer may have been caused by other factors.
A lawyer for Bartlett, Michael Papantonio, said plaintiffs intended to keep trying cases “until DuPont admits what they created here was a catastrophe.” Bartlett said she felt vindicated by the jury’s decision.
A spokeswoman for DuPont spinoff Chemours, Janet Smith, said the company was disappointed by the ruling and would continue to defend vigorously against Bartlett’s allegations in post-trial motions and on appeal, as well as in other C-8 lawsuits. DuPont spokesman Gregg Schmidt said the company expected to appeal. The lack of punitive damages, he said, validates the company’s position that “there was no conscious disregard” for residents near its plant. (Reporting Kathy Lynn Gray in Columbus, Ohio and Jessica Dye in New York, writing by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Matthew Lewis and David Gregorio)