The West Virginia Supreme Court recently upheld a lower court’s approval of a $93 million settlement in a class action lawsuit involving the use of Agent Orange.
The case involved a trichlorophenol plant being run by Monsanto, a chemical producer, in the vicinity of 4,500 homes. Nearby residents complained that Monsato adopted an illegal practice of disposing of dioxin waste materials through open pit burning so that these chemicals spread through the air. Residents were particularly upset because the chemical being spread was used in Agent Orange, a powerful, destructive herbicide used during the Vietnam War. Monsanto denied that it was disposing of the chemical through this process, and told authorities that it instead used an incineration process. Residents claimed that the company’s process was dusty and dust control was lacking, so that over 3,000 pounds of the chemical were released into the air.
Monsanto operated the plant until 1995, when the plant merged with another company. In 1997, the plant was distributed to Monsanto’s subsidiary, Solutia. Finally, the plant closed its doors in 2004.
After the residents filed a lawsuit, claiming that Monsanto acted irresponsibly to the detriment of their health, the two sides reached a deal. The deal called for a 30-year medical monitoring plan and provided $22.5 million in fees and $7 million in costs to one law firm in Charleston. A fund of $21 million was designated for the testing of eligible class members, and up to $63 million in additional funds would be accessible throughout the program’s life. Judge Derek Swope of Putnam County Circuit Court approved of the settlement.
However, one attorney representing several class members objected to the settlement. Among other things, he claimed that a cy pres award should be given to a local cancer ward rather than any unused funds being given back to Monsanto; not enough class members would receive medical monitoring, nor would enough houses receive any clean-up; cleaning the houses has no proven benefit; and there should be a system of compensation for any future cases of cancer. Another attorney representing class members claimed that the class members might never get more than $15 million of the funds and the rest would be attorney’s fees for the Charleston law firm.
The West Virginia Supreme Court did not give these concerns much credence, however, noting that they appeared to represent fewer than 100 of the 5,000 potential class members. They stated that the settlement was the product of “zealous, rigorous advocacy” from both sides and therefore there was no sign that the circuit court judge abused his discretion in finding the settlement to be fair. Just because some class members felt the settlement could have been better did not mean that it was not fair in its current form.
The situation just demonstrates how complex class action lawsuits can be, in situations where a company’s actions impact thousands. If you believe that you may be one of many people whose health is impacted by a company’s harmful practices, contact a West Virginia personal injury attorney today.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia attorney, contact us today.