Chemical maker DuPont will face 40 trials a year starting April 2017 involving plaintiffs who say they developed cancer from a toxic chemical used to make Teflon that leaked from one of the company’s plants in West Virginia.
The schedule laid out by U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus in the Southern District of Ohio during a hearing Wednesday is aimed at pushing the parties closer to resolving more than 3,550 lawsuits.
The outcome could have a material impact on Chemours Co., since liability for litigation connected with the chemical C-8 was passed on to the firm spun-off by DuPont in 2015.
The cases have been filed by individuals who say they developed one of six diseases linked to perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C-8, which was found in their drinking water. Their cases are consolidated before Sargus.
The initial 40 trials will be selected from between 250 and 300 lawsuits brought by individuals who say they contracted kidney or testicular cancer from C-8.
"People shouldn’t have to wait ten years for a trial," Sargus said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said the company was pleased plaintiffs would go to trial individually, rather than as a group, as plaintiffs’ lawyers had proposed. In the past, DuPont said "mega trials" would confuse jurors and be unfair to it.
A lead plaintiffs' lawyer, Michael London, called Sargus' plan "a good start."
The lawsuits center on claims DuPont used C-8 at a West Virginia plant for decades despite knowing it was toxic and had been found in nearby drinking water.
While the cancer claims are moving forward to trial, DuPont has said in court filings that 90 percent of the litigation involves less deadly conditions such as high cholesterol and thyroid disease.
To help estimate the aggregate value of individual suits in mass litigation, it is common to hold a series of bellwether, or test trials. The first C-8 bellwether ended in October with a $1.6 million verdict for a plaintiff who had kidney cancer. Four other trials are scheduled for 2016.
While DuPont was the named defendant, Chemours said it would cover DuPont’s liability for the first verdict. Chemours agreed to take on some of DuPont's legal liabilities when it was spun off from the company to house its performance chemicals segment.
Chemours has said an unfavorable outcome from the lawsuits could have a "material adverse effect" on its finances.
Chemours stock was little changed Thursday at $3.12 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has fallen 80 percent since it was spun off.
(Additional reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Andrew Hay)