Toxic chemicals can leak into the ground, water, and air, causing devastating injuries and illnesses to our communities. In a recent case, the jury awarded a man $5 million for his injuries and $500,000 in punitive damages against the company for its bad behavior after it dumped a toxic chemical into the river.
Damages: Compensatory vs. Punitive
Compensatory damages are awarded to the plaintiff to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries suffered. These damages often include compensation for medical expenses and lost wages, and they can also include intangible damages, such as emotional distress. Punitive damages may be awarded in addition to actual damages in some cases. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for harmful behavior and to deter wrongdoing in the future.
Punitive Damages in Illinois
Illinois views punitive damages as punishment in order to serve three purposes: (1) for retribution; (2) to deter similar conduct by the defendant in the future; and (3) to deter others from similar conduct. In Illinois, in state law claims, punitive damages are limited to three times the economic damages. Illinois allows punitive damages only when the defendant’s conduct was “with an evil motive or with a reckless indifference to the rights of others.” In the DuPont case, the jury was required to find “malice” in order to award punitive damages.
DuPont Found to Have Acted with Malice; Man Awarded Compensatory and Punitive Damages
In a recent case, a federal jury found that DuPont acted with “malice” when it dumped a toxic chemical from its West Virginia plant into the Ohio River. The man who brought a claim against the company developed cancer and was awarded $5.1 million in compensatory damages, as well as $500,000 in punitive damages.
The man, an Ohio resident, lived with his family near the factory in West Virginia. He developed testicular cancer, which he argued was a result of a chemical DuPont dumped in the Ohio River. The chemical, C-8, also known as Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is a toxic chemical found in Teflon. The company dumped the chemical into the river, which provided the region with drinking water. A study carried out in 2012 found that C-8 was linked to testicular cancer.
The plaintiff alleged that DuPont (E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.), which sells products including Teflon, Stainmaster carpet, and Gore-tex, continuously dumped carcinogenic waste into the Ohio River, and the company tried to conceal the dangers of C-8. DuPont told residents that the water was safe to drink at the time. However, internal company documents and memos showed that the company had concerns about C-8.
The finding of malice allowed the jury to award punitive damages in the case. Legal experts said that the high award might pressure the company to settle future cases that are still pending. The company currently faces over 3,500 lawsuits for dumping the toxic chemical. The company has already paid $10.25 million to the Environmental Protection Agency over the contamination and has paid other plaintiffs as well.
Seek Legal Advice for Toxic Tort Claims
Toxic torts are claims for damages resulting from exposure to dangerous substances, such as water contamination. At Moll Law Group, our attorneys are available to help victims throughout the United States pursue a toxic tort or product liability claim. Our attorneys fight for the rights of people who have been harmed by toxic substances. These cases are complex and generally require sophisticated legal strategies. We represent individuals in states including Illinois, California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. To learn more, use our online form or call us at 312-462-1700 to arrange a free consultation.
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Court Dismisses Case After Failure to Pay Filing Fee Within Statute of Limitations, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, June 25, 2016.