Despite pandemic-related changes to legal processes, the last few months have been historic in terms of major settlements and decisions as courts proceed remotely. Here, we break down the fundamental elements of the case details and shed light on their larger impact.
What Happened: A federal judge rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) immunity from claims by private citizens in environmental cases where the agency has oversight.
Background: This ruling means that the EPA must face a lawsuit filed by Flint residents who claim their health was harmed because the federal government ignored, or downplayed, the risks they faced during the city’s water crisis.
Significance: Early on, the EPA argued that it was immune from claims of negligence and willful misrepresentation raised by Flint residents. Now, this decision signals potentially far-reaching implications for the agency, raising questions for regulated entities or businesses that work closely with the EPA. For example, the ruling could shape negotiations between a regulated entity and the EPA if the regulated entity can demonstrate EPA made similar lapses, allowing the entity to seek contribution or shared responsibility.
What Happened: Pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG agreed to pay $1.6 billion to resolve most of the U.S. litigation over its now-withdrawn Essure contraceptive device, which some women said caused excessive bleeding and pelvic pain or failed to prevent pregnancies.
Background: Thousands of women accused Bayer and its subsidiary, Conceptus, of failing to properly report injury complaints linked to Essure in order to protect sales. Experts hired by plaintiffs’ lawyers said the under-reporting of injuries – which included unwanted pregnancies, excessive bleeding, organ damage, migraines and miscarriages – kept Essure on the market without adequate safety warnings for a decade, according to public files.
Significance: The deal will resolve about 90% of the 39,000 lawsuits consolidated in courts in California and Pennsylvania and will bring relief to thousands of women.
What Happened: A federal court jury in Arizona returned a $3.6 million verdict for plaintiff Sherri Booker in the first Bard inferior vena cava (IVC) filter bellwether case. Jurors also decided the company’s actions were outrageous enough to warrant punitive damages.
Background: Bard, a medical device company, created a line of “permanent and retrievable filters” designed to be placed in veins to prevent blood clots from moving into the lungs. Though the company obtained FDA clearance for the filters, they never completed any human trials. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Bard knew the filters did not stay in place, contrary to its marketing language. In fact, the filters allegedly tilted or fractured into pieces, causing them to pierce veins and migrate out of position, even traveling to the heart or lungs.
The suit also alleged that Bard issued a “silent recall” in 2013 and began manufacturing new models without informing patients and doctors or withdrawing the old model.
Significance: In August 2020, a judge affirmed the $3.6 million verdict, which is promising news for the thousands of IVC filter victims still awaiting trial or resolution of their cases.
What Happened: Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, Monsanto, will pay $95 million to resolve a lawsuit over the company’s manufacturing, marketing and distribution of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This is Washington’s largest independent state environmental recovery against a single entity.
Background: PCBs, marketed and sold under the Monsanto brand name Aroclor, were chemicals used for decades in many industrial and commercial applications, from paint and caulking to transformers, capacitors and coolants, among other uses.
As early as 1937, internal Monsanto documents warned of “systemic toxic effects” from prolonged exposure to PCB vapors. By the late 1960s, Monsanto privately cited evidence of global PCB contamination, but kept that information from the public. The suit alleged that the company chose to conceal the toxicity and pervasive contamination of its chemicals in favor of profits.
Significance: Ferguson created the Environmental Protection Division — originally called the Counsel for Environmental Protection — in 2016 to protect our environment and the safety and health of all Washingtonians. The case against Monsanto was the division’s inaugural case. This settlement holds Monsanto accountable for its actions and will help the state address the legacy PCB pollution in waters, fish, lands and air.