Important Victories in PFOA Cases
Williams Cedar and a consortium of co-counsel represent hundreds of residents whose drinking water has been contaminated with the fluorinated chemical known as PFOA in two New York villages, Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh. The cases arise from the release of PFOA during the manufacture of products used in moisture-resistant coatings. Led by Williams Cedar partner Gerald Williams, the firm has brought class actions on behalf of victims in each locality, seeking damages for loss of property value, medical monitoring and other remedies. Separate lawsuits have been brought for individuals diagnosed with diseases which scientific evidence suggests are caused by PFOA exposure, including kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease. Defendants in the suits include large corporations that were the industrial users of PFOA, and, in Hoosick Falls, its primary manufacturers, DuPont and 3M Corporation.
In recent days, courts have issued opinions strongly upholding plaintiffs’ legal theories, and rejecting defendants’ arguments that the litigation should not proceed. In doing so, they made clear that the remedies sought by plaintiffs are available in environmental cases under New York law. On May 13, 2020, in Colaneri v. Tonoga, Inc., et al (#2019-26255, N.Y. Supreme Court, Renssalaer Cty.), the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss in its entirety, holding that individual plaintiffs’ complaint adequately pleaded that PFOA exposure caused the diseases they allege. The court further held that a jury could award plaintiffs medical monitoring damages to enable early detection of latent diseases for which their exposure placed them at risk. The court also ruled that property owners could properly claim loss of value damages for the contamination of their domestic wells. Finally, the court held that owners had properly brought claims under the law of trespass and nuisance, which provide for damages due to the owners’ loss of the enjoyment of their homes.
Five days later, on May 18, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an equally strong opinion in Baker v. St. Gobain Performance Plastics, et al. Baker is a class action originally filed in the Northern District of New York. Defendants’ appeal to the Circuit asserted that the lower court erred when it denied a motion to dismiss claims for medical monitoring, property damage, nuisance and trespass. The Court of Appeals’ rebuke of these arguments was unequivocal. It held that exposure to PFOA at levels high enough to leave significant, detectable levels of the chemical in an exposed person’s blood constituted an “injury” under New York law sufficient to support a claim for medical monitoring for future illnesses. Like the state trial court in Colaneri, the Second Circuit also held that owners of property whose domestic water supply was contaminated could assert claims for property damage, even though they did not own the groundwater [which belongs to the State] that is the source of the supply.
These wins are not the end of the dispute. Plaintiffs still face months of litigation before getting a chance to present their cases to juries. But time is not on the side of the defendants. Scientists are regularly establishing stronger and stronger links between adverse health effects and PFOA and related chemicals in the PFAS “family”. Discovery in the cases in New York and across the country has already uncovered details regarding defendants’ mishandling of the chemicals and their manufacturers’ knowledge and cover-up of their dangerous characteristics and will continue to do so. Williams Cedar is proud to play its role in the effort to hold defendants accountable and obtain compensation for plaintiffs.
If you believe you have been harmed by exposure to PFOA, PFOS or other PFAS, we will be happy to consult with you. Please use the free case evaluation form below to tell us about your situation.