Jury Finds in Favor of Major Aluminum Producer in Cancer-Hazardous Waste Lawsuit
Your Charleston accident lawyers at Howell and Christmas, LLC have discussed work accidents and on the job injuries in the past, but more often then not the injuries covered here are the result of an immediate accident, or due to a repeated work related action. But there exists another class of work related injury that may or may not develop long after the job is done; we're talking about exposure to hazardous materials that are believed to be the source of certain cancers and other forms of serious disease. Detailed below is a lawsuit concerning the same, and shows the difficulty of establishing a causal link between toxic exposure and a specific illness.
After a more than two-week long trial an Indiana jury has returned a verdict in favor of major aluminum producer Alcoa. A former miner who worked at the Squaw Creek Mine site from 1977 until its closure in the early 1990s filed the $12 million lawsuit. The suit claimed that Alcoa’s dumping hazardous substances at the site caused the former miner’s cancer of the bile duct, which is a rare form of liver cancer. The now 56 year-old man also spent countless hours fishing, hunting, hiking, and target shooting around the site starting as a young child. The lawsuit sought to recover and provide future medical costs, loss of income, pain and suffering.
Jurors were told by the plaintiff's attorney that the former miner's estimated past medical costs, including four major surgeries, was greater than $480,000; future medical expenses could exceed $800,000, with an additional $50,000 to provide for his wife's medical monitoring for signs of developing cancer; combined loss of income for the couple was estimated at $1.3 million; and plaintiff sought another $9.5 for intangible losses such as pain and suffering.
According to reports, large amounts of industrial waste were dumped into portions of the mine starting in the mid-1960s until 1979. Such waste included coal tar pitch, spent pot linings from its aluminum smelting and a sludge that contained chromium. Chromium has long been known to be toxic and carcinogenic (capable of causing cancer) in large amounts and in certain forms. Alcoa acknowledged the dumping but has disputed the toxicity of the waste, where the waste was dumped, and how much of it was dumped. Further, Alcoa insisted it was in full compliance with state regulations.
According to defense counsel, the former miner’s association with local United Mine Workers (UMWA) and the changing of Alcoa to a nonunion mine motivated the lawsuit. Further, Alcoa's defense argued that many of the testifying witnesses' union ties influenced their testimony, suggesting that their memories had conformed to the facts of the case as a result of their involvement with the suit. But the defense did not solely argue union influence; the former miner's doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota could not confirm a link between the chemicals and his cancer; and that the lawsuit was filed after a statute of limitations on such legal actions.
Both plaintiff and defense attorneys utilized expert witnesses to offer competing testimony concerning the environmental and health effects of the chemicals found in the industrial waste. Expert testimony may be used to help the jury to determine a fact in issue based on the expert's specialized knowledge, experience, skill and is necessary in case in which the subject matter falls outside the realm of ordinary lay knowledge. Expert testimony differs from lay testimony in that an expert witness is permitted to state an opinion based on facts not within his/her firsthand knowledge or may base his/her opinion on information made available before the hearing so long as it is the type of information that is reasonably relied upon in the field to make opinions. On the other hand, a lay witness may only testify as to matters within his personal knowledge and may not offer opinion testimony that requires special knowledge, skill, experience, or training.
More than eight years ago, former miners made a concerted effort to disclose their belief that the waste material had been toxic and caused various illnesses. In response, Alcoa offered miners free health screenings through the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Occupational Health. The screenings, however, failed to establish any direct connection between the waste and any of the illnesses. A number of miners still disagree, maintaining the dumped waste at the mine is the source of various illnesses. Forty miners are actively involved in a separate suit against Alcoa. The class is represented by the same plaintiff’s attorney in the instant case.
It will be highly interesting for your Charleston, SC attorneys to see the development of future actions against Alcoa on behalf of a class of former miners. Not to mention how these legal claims will affect future Alcoa plans of mining a property close to the one immediately in dispute.
More Blog Posts: Overview of Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision Concerning Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, Crane Operator Injured at Local Shipyard, Construction Worker Killed After Fall, South Carolina on the Job Accident Lawyers Take a Step Back in Time to the Worst Construction Accident in U.S. History