$20.6 Million Award Upheld in TCE Hepatitis Case

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By Peter Hayes

July 14 — A $20.6 million award to a woman who claimed toxic chemicals dumped at a ball-bearing plant caused her hepatitis wasn't excessive, the Western District of Missouri ruled July 13 ( Kirk v. Schaeffler Grp. USA, Inc., 2016 BL 224482, W.D. Mo., No. 13-cv-5032, 7/13/16 ).

The court rejected a challenge to the compensatory damages portion of the award.

The plaintiff’s experts established that Jodelle Kirk suffered $3 million in economic damages, and a $4 million award for non-economic damages was “not excessive or disproportionate,” the court said.

A federal jury in Missouri awarded Kirk $13 million in punitive damages and $7.6 million in compensatory damages (31 TXLR 291, 3/31/16).

She alleged that FAG Bearings LLC dumped trichloroethene, a toxic degreaser for metal parts, on the grounds of its Joplin, Mo. plant from 1971 to 1982.

She also claimed that her illness was caused by exposure to TCE in utero, and through contact with contaminated soils and ground water near the plant when she was a child.

The court noted that Kirk may have to take a drug which increases her risk of having cancer for the rest of her life to prevent her immune system from attacking her liver.

“She can choose to continue taking the drug and never become pregnant, or she can discontinue taking the drug and become pregnant but risk dying,” the court said.

“This is a horrible dilemma for a young woman who testified she wanted to have a family.”

Judge Greg Kays issued the opinion.

The law offices of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain represented Kirk.

Dentons US represented Schaeffler Group USA, Inc., FAG Bearings LLC, and FAG Holding LLC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes at phayes@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com and Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bna.com

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