Monsanto settlement causes Putnam court officials to breathe sig - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Monsanto settlement causes Putnam court officials to breathe sigh of relief

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After lengthy jury selection and a host of other hurdles, Putnam County Circuit Court authorities are breathing a sigh of relief with the potential settlement reached in the massive Monsanto Co. case.

The $84 million settlement was granted preliminary approval in a massive class action case seeking medical monitoring after plaintiffs claim they were exposed to dioxin released from a Monsanto chemical plant.

Terms of the settlement, which resolves all claims in pending litigation as well as the class action suit, were discussed in a Feb. 24 hearing. Presiding Circuit Judge Derek Swope also noted all personal injury cases filed by the Calwell practice involving Monsanto have been settled.

"It's a sigh of relief," said Putnam County Circuit Clerk Ronnie W. Matthews. "This trial was supposed to last anywhere from three to six months."

Parties agreed to provide a 30-year medical monitoring program at a local hospital. Preliminary funds of $21 million will pay for medical testing, and if certain conditions are met, $63 million in additional funds will go for 30 years worth of medical screenings.

The settlement also granted $9 million as part of a program to offer free cleaning of affected homes. Authorities estimate there are 4,500 homes in the remediation area.

Plaintiffs filed the suit in 2004 against Monsanto, Pharmacia Corp., Akzo Nobel Chemicals Inc., Akzo Chemicals Inc., Flexsys America Co., Flexsys America LP, Flexsys International LP and Flexsys International Co.

Plaintiffs claim from 1948 to 1969, Monsanto manufactured herbicides at its Nitro chemical plant, which created dioxin as a byproduct. According to the suit, dioxin was released into the air when waste material was burned at the old Monsanto plant.

Matthews said jury selection began more than a year ago with 2,000 potential jurors.

"By the time we eliminated the class, we had whittled it down to 345 jurors," Matthews said. "And once we brought them into Winfield High School and gave them the questionnaires the attorneys and judges prepared, that number went down further."

However, matters took an unexpected twist in an Aug. 26 hearing when former Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding announced he would step down from the case because of he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Spaulding retired four months later.

"After Judge Swope took over, he decided we needed up the number and suggested 2,000 more," Matthews explained. "It made a total of 5,000 jurors that has been summoned for jury duty."

Matthews said jury selection is not difficult in most cases. However, because of the size of the jury pool, authorities had to go off premises and rent facilities and transportation.

Plus, court authorities had to handle thousands of pages worth of documents.

"It consisted of a box that took up a wall full of several thousands of pages of paper," he said. "We had to clock and file every one of them."

However, it's not yet over. Swope scheduled a fairness hearing for 9 a.m. June 18 to determine if there are any objections to the proposed settlement.

"We still have a lot of work to do," he said. "We still have hearings …There is a lot to be settled."


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