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Water Contamination Leads to Thousands of Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

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Water contamination is once again in the national spotlight following a $1.6 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff in Bartlett v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., et al. (Bartlett), the first of the more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death cases part of a coordinated multidistrict litigation arising from alleged exposures to C-8 or Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a well-known chemical commonly used in such popular consumer goods as Teflon and non-stick cookware.

Approximately twelve years ago, the parties in Leach v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (Leach), a 2004 class-action lawsuit wherein the plaintiffs alleged DuPont contaminated the drinking water of six water districts with C-8, reached a community settlement. Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, the parties selected a panel of epidemiologists to study whether a connection existed between C-8 exposure and the diseases at issue inLeach. The parties agreed that if the panel found the existence of a link to be more likely than not, DuPont waived its right to challenge whether C-8 caused the named disease. Ultimately the panel linked C-8 exposures to six human diseases and opened the door for more than 3,500 personal injury cases filed as part of a coordinated multidistrict litigation in West Virginia and Ohio.

C-8 is a synthetic acid and essential ingredient for Teflon and waterproofing because it is a slippery, stable compound that reduces the surface tension of water. C-8 is also found in industrial waste, carpet cleaning liquids, house dust, microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, water, and food. Toxicology data shows that C-8 is a carcinogen, liver toxicant, a developmental toxicant, and an immune system toxicant. C-8 is prominently on the radar of regulatory agencies because of its persistence, toxicity, and widespread occurrence in the blood of general populations worldwide. Studies have found that it is present at very low levels in nearly everyone's blood in the United States. Recent analytical data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that C-8 is in the blood of 99.7% of Americans.

In October 2015, the first of the cases on the coordinated docket to reach trial, Bartlettconcluded when a jury awardedplaintiff Carla Marie Bartlett $1.6 million upon finding DuPont negligently caused Ms. Bartlett's kidney cancer. The next of the C-8 cases set for trial is Wolf v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., et al. (Wolf). In Wolf, plaintiff John Wolf alleges that exposures to C-8 water contaminated by DuPont caused his ulcerative colitis. Currently the parties in Wolfare embroiled in determining the full scope of expert opinion.

The ultimate determination as to the scope of expert testimony and the result of the trial could help set the tone for several thousand subsequent personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Indeed, these cases may set the tone for an even greater number of litigations based on the fact that C-8 exposure can be traced to virtually the entire general population.

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