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Richard Friedman: Jury Returns $21.4M Verdict Against Monsanto In 4th Trial Over PCB Contamination At Wash. State School

CVN: Posted by David Siegel on Jun 5, 2022 9:32:31 PM

Seattle, WA - A Washington State court jury has awarded $21.37 million to four plaintiffs claiming they suffered injuries due to exposure in a local school to toxic chemicals manufactured by Bayer-owned agrochemical giant Monsanto. 

The jury returned their verdict on June 2 following a lengthy trial that begin in mid-February. The plaintiffs are among hundreds of students, faculty and parents alleging they suffered a range of neurological injuries due to exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at the Sky Valley School in Monroe, Washington. 

The trial marks the third verdict to date in King County Superior Court involving the aging Sky Valley facility, which plaintiffs argued used old-fashioned light fixtures and building caulk containing high levels of PCBs.

An initial trial ended in June of 2021 with a $185 million verdict, while a subsequent trial later that year resulted in a $62 million verdict.

. . .

The initial trial took place in a sprawling convention center repurposed as a courtroom, but the next two trials adopted a hybrid format with jurors hearing opening and closing arguments in-person and hearing all witness testimony via Zoom.

In the current and previous trials plaintiffs have argued that Monsanto, the sole manufacturer of PCB chemicals in the United States, knew they posed a serious health risk but withheld that information from the public for years. PCBs, utilized for a variety of industrial purposes, are also known as “forever chemicals” due to their long-lasting composition. The United States banned manufacturing of PCBs in 1979. 

Monsanto argued that while PCBs were present at the Sky Valley facility, they were never found in sufficient numbers to cause the injuries the plaintiffs allegedly sustained. At previous trials and in court filings, the company blamed the Monroe County School District where the school is located for supposedly failing to replace the outdated light fixtures. 

Attorney Rick Friedman of Friedman Rubin law firm, who represents the plaintiffs, told CVN after the trial the verdict is significant because Monsanto pushed for trying these particular plaintiffs’ claims early.

“Monsanto was right, this particular group of cases presented damages challenges that most of the other cases don’t have,” Friedman said. “Still our clients here were badly hurt, and the jury recognized that—for which we are grateful. This jury worked really hard to get it right.”

In a statement provided to CVN after the trial, Bayer said the company would appeal the verdict citing “multiple errors and the lack of proof at trial.”

“The undisputed evidence in this case does not support the conclusions that plaintiffs were exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs at the Sky Valley Education Center or that these exposures are responsible for their alleged health issues,” the company’s statement said. “The air and other tests in evidence reflected extremely low levels of PCBs in this school, and blood testing performed on individuals who were present at the school showed that they did not have elevated levels of PCBs in their blood and were well within PCB levels found among those without unusual exposures in the US population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Monsanto was represented by numerous out-of-state attorneys from the law firm Shook Hardy & Bacon in addition to local Washington State counsel Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt.

The trial took place before Judge Kristen Richardson.

The case is captioned Beutler, et al. v. Pharmacia LLC, case number 21-2-14302-1 SEA, in the Superior Court for the State of Washington in King County.

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