PARKERSBURG - Litigants who are part of the C8 class-action lawsuit will be receiving notice of their legal rights relating to the probable link reports released by the C8 Science Panel and future medical monitoring.
To date, the C8 Science Panel has established probable links between C8 exposure and thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, kidney cancer, testicular cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension. The panel is scheduled to release its final set of findings on Oct. 29.
During a hearing Tuesday before Wood County Circuit Judge J.D. Beane, plaintiffs attorneys and DuPont counsel Jim Lees presented their objections regarding the proposed notice.
After hearing testimony from Dr. Paul Brooks, Beane agreed the most expeditious method would be to allow Brooks and Art Maher to retrieve the database from the court that contains the names and addresses of health project participants, take the database to SW Resources where personnel dealing with the project would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Brooks, along with Maher, made up Brookmar, the firm that conducted and coordinated the health project screening more than 70,000 class members. SW Resources would print up the notices and mail them.
Brooks said class members were told their information would be kept confidential. He said the database to be used for mailing purposes contains no medical information, which is on a separate database. The format for the notice will be decided at a later time by the court.
Brooks said the process would be monitored so there was no breech of confidentiality regarding names or addresses. He said SW Resource personnel estimated the process would take 2-3 days and costs were estimated at between $70,000-$90,000, depending on the length of the notice and other factors.
Lees agreed to the notification procedure on behalf of DuPont. Both parties agreed there would also be publication of an announcement in at least one national media outlet and with local media in case any of the litigants had moved since the health project originally obtained their address.
The form of the notice was more in contention. Lees did not agree with a proposed form, which would link the litigants to a web page designed by the plaintiffs' law firms. The page would contain information on the new C8 medical monitoring panel, noted plaintiffs' attorney Rob Bilott.
Lees also objected to language that referenced talking to attorneys from the original three law firms that were the class action attorneys.
"We just want to make sure everyone understands if they go to another attorney, we have no control over what costs might be involved," Bilott said.
"The individual class members are free to retain attorneys of their choice. You are saying here all claims have to handled exclusively by class counsel only," Lees said. He noted there are currently four lawsuits pending against DuPont stemming from C8 exposure; three that were filed Friday in Wood County Circuit Court and one pending in federal district court in Columbus, Ohio, all involving other law firms.
Bilott noted when the court certified the common issues in the original suit, there were certain class-related issue and the three law firms originally involved remain "class counsel."
"They (litigants) are free to retain other counsel relating to non-certified issues like calculation of individual damages, but the court still has jurisdiction over other issues," Bilott said.
Plaintiffs' counsel Harry Deitzler asked that Charleston lawyer Kathy Brown, who is the attorney in the three local lawsuits, be excluded as a party in the hearing Tuesday. Brown was allowed to remain. The judge said he would read her written objections to the notice. Deitzler also argued only the three original law firms were appointed to represent the class.
"The only counsel, by court order, are those original firms." A website under the name of the Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee and Deitzler law firm states: the law firms are Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler, of Charleston; Taft, Stettinius & Hollister and Hollister LP of Cincinnati, Ohio and Winter & Johnson PLLC of Charleston as class counsel. "No other attorneys or law firms are involved in the litigation, or approved by the court as class counsel," according to the site.
Class members could sue once the C8 Science Panel finds probable links, then they are free to file lawsuits, under the settlement agreement, Lees noted. "There is no class; they can proceed as they choose to be appropriate."
Plaintiffs' attorneys argued, under the court's previous order, the only part released/dismissed related to diseases which the science panel said had no link to C8. Beane said he would review the original documents in the case before making a ruling.
Lees argued that class members with claims have a right to hire whom they choose to represent them. "We don't want them driven to a website with representations that we feel are inaccurate. We need to stay out of the fight between the plaintiffs' attorneys and they want your blessing. It needs to be a fair playing field," Lees told the court.
The judge agreed to allow the parties to proceed with the notification method, and said he would review the written objections as to the form of the notice. Judge Beane said he would review the original suit documents relating to the class counsel issue. The lawsuit, when it was originally filed was handled by Circuit Judge George W. Hill, it was Hill who approved the final settlement in the case.