By Earl Rinehart
The Columbus Dispatch • Thursday January 5, 2017 6:35 PM
Jurors who awarded an Ohio man $10.5 million in punitive damages Thursday apparently heeded his attorney’s call to punish DuPont for causing his cancer, and to send a message to corporate America.
"It's important to punish, to end this corrupt corporate mentality," attorney Gary J. Douglas urged the jury in U.S. District Court in Columbus.
The amount was the largest awarded of three DuPont cancer cases tried so far in Columbus.
After the verdict, Douglas said of DuPont, "One would hope, depending on how callous they are, with compensatory damages of seven figures and punitive in eight figures, when they're looking at 3,000 cases, they would do the right thing."
That, he said, would be a mass, "global" settlement with the plaintiffs.
The same jury awarded the plaintiff, Kenneth Vigneron, 56, a truck driver from Washington County, $2 million in compensatory damages last month.
Vigneron said his drinking water was tainted by C8, a chemical used to make Teflon, from smokestack emissions at DuPont's Washington Works plant. The particles settled on the Little Hocking Water Association well fields, eventually contaminating the water supply.
The plant is along the Ohio River in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Jurors also had found that DuPont acted maliciously because it knew in the 1960s that C8, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was toxic and a cancer risk, but said nothing publicly until forced to by lawsuits and regulators.
The jury returned to court on Wednesday to hear both sides argue how much to give Vigneron, who suffered from testicular cancer. His attorneys didn't ask for a specific number; a DuPont attorney asked for "zero," saying the company already has paid enough for its "mistake."
Douglas told jurors DuPont has a "staggering" $18.8 billion that can be converted to cash, including $4.5 billion in cash and other sources. A plaintiff witness, forensic economist Robert Johnson of California, said the company has net sales of $68 million a day.
“That $2 million in (compensatory) damages, they make in 42 minutes,” Douglas said.
Johnson said he studied DuPont’s corporate financial statements and documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He said a single award of $100 million would allow DuPont stockholders to still receive a dividend and "no one has to lose his job."
Financial observers have said DuPont is concerned about how one large punitive damage award affects the thousands of remaining suits it faces.
Of the two previous trials in Columbus, one jury awarded a woman with kidney cancer $1.6 million in compensatory damages, but said she was not eligible for punitive damages. The other jury awarded a man with testicular cancer $5.1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
U.S. Chief District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. heard the three C8 cases and will preside at the next one, which also involves testicular cancer, beginning Jan. 17. In May, several federal judges will hear C8 cases in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. The goal is to hear 270 cancer cases at the rate of 40 cases over 10 months every year.
DuPont attorney Craig Woods told jurors the company regrets what happened, but that "DuPont has paid for their mistake. It doesn't deserve to be punished on top of that."
The company said it spent $594 million to clean up C8 problems. That included $70 million for a community health study in 2005, $20 million to build state-of-the-art water filtration systems at all six public water districts affected, and millions for a science panel that in 2012 said there was a probable link between the chemical and several types of cancer.
"This money was committed for doing the right thing," DuPont attorney John Gall told the jury of three women and three men.
DuPont is expected to appeal the verdict.
C8 no longer is used to make Teflon, a product that now belongs to a DuPont spinoff called Chemours Company. Chemours issued a statement after Thursday's verdict: "In the event DuPont claims it is entitled to indemnification from Chemours as to some or all of the judgment, Chemours retains its defenses to such claims.”
Chemours stock closed Thursday down 33 cents, or 1.5 percent, at $21.88. DuPont stock fell 36 cents, or .50 percent, at $73.81.