Legal challenges continue to plague DuPont Chemical in their quest to defend themselves against allegations that they have polluted rivers in Ohio and West Virginia through the release of Teflon chemicals into these waterways. C-8, a chemical substance used to make Teflon cookware non-sticky, was found to be toxic to humans as early as 1961, when studies began to report that C-8 could cause birth defects in unborn children. A continued study of C-8 revealed that it was also responsible for causing various cancers in humans. DuPont continued to use the substance for almost half a century after these studies, failing to disclose to regulators the possible effects of C-8. In addition, the company allowed C-8 to be dumped from its plants into water sources throughout Ohio and West Virginia, ultimately leading to over 3,500 health-related lawsuits. After years of discovery and ongoing litigation, several of these cases have made their way to juries and verdicts.
DuPont Chemical has been in the news recently, and not for good reasons. The chemical and manufacturing giant is currently litigating several class action personal injury cases related to its alleged dumping of toxic chemicals into the water that West Virginians and Ohioans drank on a regular basis. In a case filed in the Southern District of West Virginia, John Wolf is one of several thousand plaintiffs, 3,535 to be exact, who is seeking compensation for injuries that he alleges that he suffered as a result of drinking water contaminated by DuPont. Mr. Wolf’s case, which is set to go to trial in March, could have significant ramifications for other plaintiffs seeking compensation from DuPont in courts across West Virginia and Ohio.
Punitive damages are available in certain West Virginia personal injury cases, and are designed to punish a person or entity for particularly callous behavior. They’re separate from the compensatory damages that a person injured in an accident can seek to make them whole financially, or to compensate for money lost as a result of the accident. A recent decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia shows the standard that courts typically use to determine whether a person is eligible to seek punitive damages in a certain case.
Mr. Schreiner was killed in a tragic car accident while traveling from Pittsburgh to Morgantown for work. Schreiner and Mr. Kennedy were traveling on I-79 when they pulled over to the side of the road after Kennedy’s pickup truck experienced mechanical problems. They parked the truck on the road’s right shoulder and got out to inspect the vehicle. Mr. Riffle was driving a tractor trailer owned by his employer – Werner Enterprises – in the same direction on I-79 around the same time. He took his eyes off of the road when he noticed Kennedy and Schriener working on the truck and nearly crashed into a car traveling in the opposite direction. He then overcorrected and slammed the tractor trailer into the pickup truck, striking Kennedy and killing Schreiner.
Ms. Shulin, as executor of Schreiner’s estate, sued Werner Enterprises for negligence and wrongful death. She asked the court to award compensatory damages – covering medical costs, the loss of Mr. Schreiner’s earning power, etc. – as well as punitive damages. In the litigation that followed, it was revealed that Riffle had been repeatedly cited for “failure and inability to properly and effectively operate and maintain his tractor trailer” in the months leading up to the accident. Among other dangerous behavior, Werner Enterprises had scolded Riffle for using his cell phone behind the wheel. It was determined that Riffle was also using the phone while driving on the day of the accident.