Ellen J. Kullman
Ellen J. Kullman CEO of DuPont (DD) [Reuters]

The giant chemicals company DuPont has met its nemesis of sorts.

A jury has found DuPont liable for negligence in the case of Carla Bartlett and awarded $1.6 million to the Ohio woman who developed kidney cancer after drinking water contaminated with a carcinogenic chemical formerly used to make Teflon, reports The Intercept.

The jury declined to give Bartlett punitive damages in the federal case. Instead, the award included $1.1 million for negligence as well as $500,000 for emotional distress, The Intercept said.

The verdict has generated optimism and hope for both Bartlett's lawyers and, as a first case of this sort, paves the way for action in more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death suits filed on behalf of people in West Virginia and Ohio who were exposed to C8, the toxin.

"This is brilliant," one of Bartlett's attorneys, Mike Papantonio, said of the verdict. "It's exactly what we wanted." DuPont had chosen the Bartlett case thinking that it would be able to win. "They picked this case with the idea that it was the most winnable. Strategically they never dreamed we'd win this case," the Intercept quoted Papantonio, who predicts that other C8 suits in the pipeline will result in punitive damages. "Really, it's just a matter of time."

DuPont, meanwhile, in a statement, said it expected to appeal the verdict. Its lawyers had argued that there was no evidence that Bartlett's infirmities were the result of the toxin.

Carla Bartlett lives in Coolville, Ohio, a tiny town a few miles across the Ohio River from a DuPont plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. After years of drinking water that had been contaminated with C8, Bartlett, now 51, was diagnosed with a tumor on her kidney in 1997 and underwent a painful surgery that involved removing part of one of her ribs along with the tumor, the Intercept said.

DuPont was accused of working overtime to keep people in the dark about the contamination of their drinking water by C8. Bartlett's lawyers showed voluminous evidence that the company knew about the damage it was inflicting on unsuspecting citizens. 

The Intercept said Bartlett's lawyers laid out a clear timeline from the 1950s, when DuPont first learned of the chemical's potential toxicity, to the present. By 1989, DuPont knew that C8 caused testicular tumors in rats — and even classified C8 as a possible carcinogen.

But the company kept these developments in the dark from the public for "at least 16 years", the lawyers said. Neither did DuPont stop using the chemical but  "actually increased production"

Bartlett's moving testimony in court and that by two of DuPont's own witnesses, who admitted to having high levels of C8 in their own bodies, sealed DuPont's fate.

According to the Intercept, the $1.6 million verdict is only one of several problems now facing DuPont. Since March the company's stock is down more than 30 per cent, and last week, CEO Ellen Kullman announced she was stepping down by mid-October, leaving DuPont without a succession plan.

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