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Jury orders DuPont to pay $10.5 million over leaked chemical

By Erica Teichert

By Erica Teichert

(Reuters) - A U.S. jury in Ohio ordered DuPont on Thursday to pay $10.5 million in punitive damages to a man who said he developed testicular cancer from exposure to a toxic chemical leaked from a Dupont plant, the plaintiff's lawyer Robert Bilott said.

The federal jury had awarded Kenneth Vigneron $2 million in compensatory damages in December. Bilott said the jury also awarded attorneys' fees, to be determined at a later date.

This is the third and largest verdict that jurors in the Columbus, Ohio, federal court have issued against DuPont for injuries linked to perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA or C-8, which is used to make Teflon. The $12.5 million in damages is more than double the amount awarded in a case decided in July.

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"The jury has sent a strong message that we hope DuPont will listen to," Bilott said in an email to Reuters.

DuPont faces more than 3,400 lawsuits over the leak of the chemical from its Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant.

The leak allegedly contaminated local water supplies and has been linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancer. Vigneron claimed he developed testicular cancer from the chemical exposure.

DuPont has used C-8 at the West Virginia plant since the early 1950s. Vigneron alleged the company leaked the chemical from the facility during the course of its operations.

While DuPont is the named defendant in the litigation, it has an agreement that its performance chemicals spinoff Chemours Co will cover the costs of such lawsuits.

Chemours spokeswoman Cynthia Salitsky said Dupont was directly liable for damages and Chemours may have defenses to any potential indemnification claim.

She also noted the majority of remaining lawsuits claim the chemical caused high cholesterol or thyroid disease, not cancer.

DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said the company was disappointed in the verdict and planned to appeal.

"We believe the verdict was the result of trial rulings that misrepresented the findings of an independent science panel and misled jurors about the risks of C8 exposure," Turner said.

DuPont has lost two other recent trials over C-8. The first ended in October 2015 with an award of $1.6 million to a woman who claimed the chemical caused her to develop kidney cancer.

In July 2016, a jury in a case involving a plaintiff with testicular cancer found Dupont acted with actual malice. The jury returned a verdict of $5.1 million, which was later bolstered with $500,000 in punitive damages.

Those two trials were test cases, or bellwethers, meant to determine the major issues and gauge the scale of liability for the remaining litigation.

Vigneron's case is the first non-bellwether trial in the consolidated litigation, with 39 more cases slated to go to trial in Columbus over the next year.

(Reporting by Erica Teichert in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alan Crosby)

 
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