DuPont wins new trial in W. Va. environmental case

Chris Rizo Mar. 26, 2010, 4:21pm

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Legal Newsline)- The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia on Friday reduced the punitive damages award won by residents of Spelter in a pollution class action lawsuit against DuPont Co.

The high court reduced the punitive damages judgment from $196 million to $97.7 million.

The justices slashed the punitive damages in the Harrison County case by 40 percent because defendants cannot be assessed for medical monitoring costs as a part of punitives. Another $20 million was trimmed from the balance because DuPont paid for cleanup at the 60-acre industrial smelter site.

Additionally, the court's majority ordered a trial to determine whether the 2007 case was filed in time.

Friday's ruling said that Circuit Judge Thomas Bedell should have allowed a jury to decide if the plaintiffs in the case had filed within the two-year statute of limitations.

"Should the statute of limitations issue be resolved in favor of the plaintiffs on remand, the remaining issues pertaining to liability and compensatory relief are affirmed," Acting Justice Alan Moats of Taylor County wrote for the court's majority.

Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont was originally ordered to pay $381.3 million in October 2007.

After the case reached the Supreme Court, Republican Gov. Joe Manchin filed an amicus brief asking the high court to hear a full appeal of the punitive judgment against the company.

In a statement, DuPont said it was "extremely disappointed" that the justices did not overturn the entire case.

"DuPont was denied a fair trial by numerous errors. However, we are pleased the court has called for a new trial on the matter of statute of limitations, which we were denied the opportunity to present to a jury at the original trial," said DuPont General Counsel Thomas Sager.

The case is Perrine v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., Nos. 34333, 34334 and 34335, Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (Charleston).

Supreme Court Justices Brent Benjamin and Thomas McHugh recused themselves from the matter because their former law firms worked on the case. They were replaced by Moats and Mercer Circuit Judge Derek Swope.

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