In 1998, employees at Union Carbide's plant in Taft were exposed to chemical vapors. The employees filed a class action lawsuit, and 12 people have already been awarded judgments for their injuries. The court ordered Union Carbide to pay the employees between $750 and $3,500 in personal injury compensation because of the chemical exposure.
Late last month, Union Carbide asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to overturn the personal injury awards. They argue that that the employees were not seriously injured and that the 12 awards set an unjustified precedent that could cost the company millions of dollars in other personal injury claims.
The lawsuits stem from a situation in 1998 in which 4.6 million pounds of a paint thinner called "naphtha" evaporated at the plant. More than 2,000 people claimed to have been injured by the chemical exposure. Of the 2,000 people involved in the class action, 12 have been awarded personal injury damages to date.
Union Carbide argues that naphtha is not a chemical poison. Instead, they say it is a "sensory irritant" that does not cause significant damage when people are exposed to it. They are basing their argument against the victims on the fact that "nobody went to a doctor." They claim that people who suffered injuries that warrant compensation would not reasonably "be in so much pain and not go to a doctor."
However, the Louisiana Association for Justice has argued that the 12 plaintiffs who were awarded compensation did everything they were supposed to. They "complied with discovery, subjected themselves to examination under oath and presented evidence to satisfy their burden of proof."
The Supreme Court's decision will impact Louisiana chemical exposure class action lawsuits in the future. The victims in this case are up against many commercial giants, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry who have taken Union Carbide's side.
Source: The Louisiana Record, "Union Carbide wants judgments overturned in chemcial release class action," Steve Korris, 23 Sept 2010