State Appeals Court Affirms Class Action Trial Victory for Chemical Defendant

An interesting little case: a personal injury class gets certified, defendant stipulates to key elements of liability, and defendant wins the trial anyway.

The Louisiana appeals court has affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. in a case involving an accidental chemical release at a DuPont facility in Reserve, Louisiana. See Johnson v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 2009 WL 91481 (La.App. 5 Cir. 2009).

The named plaintiffs filed a class action petition in 1994, alleging they were injured by the release of toxic chemicals at a DuPont facility after a small chemical accident. The trial court certified the matter as a class action in September, 1997. DuPont stipulated to certain elements of liability in 2000, but reserved their right to trial on damages, causation, the nature of the chemicals released, and the area affected. The plaintiffs apparently agreed to waive all claims for punitive damages in the stipulation.

At a bench trial in 2006, the trial court ruled in favor of DuPont, finding that the plaintiffs had not met their burden on causation. The plaintiffs failed to show exposure to harmful levels of chemicals, and to show that plaintiffs' injuries were caused by the chemical explosion.

The Louisiana Court of Appeal has agreed, saying that plaintiffs' sole medical expert did not establish that the plaintiffs' injuries— nausea, eye and skin irritation, coughing, and headaches—were caused by the chemical release. Plaintiff’s expert treated the plaintiffs at the time of their alleged injury and had diagnosed them with “fume inhalation,” but based entirely on the history provided by the plaintiffs.

The court also rejected plaintiffs’ challenge to the testimony of a DuPont witness about plaintiffs' alleged injuries, because such testimony was about his observations of plaintiffs' alleged injuries, not testimony as a medical expert. Although he was closer to the incident than plaintiffs, he did not hear any explosion, did not smell anything, and did not experience nausea, headaches, eye irritation, or other symptoms.
 

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