Dioxin lawsuits still possible against Monsanto (18/12/2007)

NOTE: Interesting re the widely held view that the advent of Solutia meant Monsanto successfully divested itself of potentially massive liabilities for the harm it caused as a chemical company.


Lawsuits still possible in Monsanto dioxin injury case
By Paul J. Nyden Staff writer
The Charleston Gazette, December 16 2007

People who lived near the former Monsanto plant in Nitro that produced dioxins and related chemicals may still sue the company for personal and property damages.

So can residents who lived near more than 40 other chemical plants throughout the country that Monsanto once owned and operated.

In December 2003, Solutia, a successor to most of Monsanto's chemical plants and assets, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize its debts, including potential claims alleging dioxin and chemical poisoning.

After hearings held by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Prudence C. Beatty in New York City, the parties reached an agreement about ongoing and potential lawsuits on Nov. 29.

That agreement permits lawsuits to be pursued and makes 'new Monsanto,' a company created in 2002, responsible for potential costs.

During a July 17 hearing, Beatty stated that a federal jury in Charleston ruled in April 1985 'that the chemical [dioxin] was poisonous and they did make the finding that the parties were harmed by the chemical.

'The jury believed the chemical was harmful,' Beatty stressed. 'It just didnít believe that there was the intention that was needed, that the [U.S. District] court found was needed, to get around the Workmanís Compensation law.'

During an 11-month trial in 1984-1985, Charleston lawyer Stuart Calwell represented Monsanto chemical workers who alleged they were poisoned and injured on their jobs at the Nitro plant.

After the trial, held by U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver, jurors concluded those workers could not collect Workersí Comp benefits because state law required an employer to 'intentionally' injure workers before employees could collect compensation for their injuries.

Beatty repeatedly stressed that the 1985 jury verdict did not rule out ongoing and future lawsuits alleging poisoning, property damage and negative health effects from pollution by dioxins and related chemicals.

Beatty told John C. Longmire, one of Solutiaís New York lawyers, that Calwell had 'a jury verdict that made a finding in his favor on the chemical issue ... the chemical connection between exposure and illness.

'Now you would like to deny that, and obviously itís not evidence,' Beatty said during bankruptcy proceedings on April 17.

'We thought dioxin claims might be barred in the final Solutia bankruptcy settlement,' Calwell told the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

'So we got 3,000 people to file forms claiming they were injured with a value of $1 million on each claim. We became big creditors in the case.

'We got the language in the bankruptcy settlement that we wanted. Those claims are not going to be dismissed. After a Nov. 29 hearing, the New York bankruptcy court approved a settlement to allow those suits to continue,' Calwell said.

Glynn Young, a Monsanto spokesman, told the Sunday Gazette-Mail, 'Under our spin-off agreement from Pfizer, we agreed to indemnify these claims.

'In the event Solutia did not meet its environmental or litigation obligations, it fell to us. We took it over. We will continue to manage tort litigation. We also picked up the jobs of restoring 40-odd [chemical plant] sites and remediation projects.'

Monsanto and Solutia, Young added, will jointly manage two cleanup projects.

'We are assuming complete responsibility for remediation at sites Solutia never really operated after the spinoff. But they did operate [our former] chemical sites in Illinois and Alabama. That is why we will work together with them there,' Young said.

In 1997, Monsanto owners began reorganizing the company into three new corporations:

Solutia Inc. took over most of the chemical business, including the Nitro plant in 1997.

Pharmacia took over Monsantoís pharmaceutical business, when Monsanto merged with Pharmacia and Upjohn Co. in 2000. Monsanto disappeared for two years.

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