Web Posted: 12/03/2009 11:17 CST
Plaintiffs ponder pesticide plant settlement
By Lynn Brezosky – Express-News
EDINBURG — All of the roughly 1,800 plaintiffs claiming illnesses from the former Hayes-Sammons pesticide plant in Mission must agree to divvy up a $4.2 million settlement — or restart what has been a decade-long challenge to get their lawsuit to trial, according to court documents obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.
Jurors were dismissed Nov. 12 from the case of 66-year-old Guadalupe Garza, who plaintiffs’ lawyers said had the most solid case against defendants Hercules Inc., Montrose Chemical Co. and Shell Chemical Co. Two days earlier, lawyers on both sides told state District Judge Mario Ramirez they had reached an agreement in that case and several others.
Under the pact, the defendants don’t admit fault or liability, and won’t pay unless and until “all plaintiffs, one hundred percent of the plaintiffs, agree in writing to the settlement or are otherwise dismissed with prejudice.”
The settlement was reached with knowledge that some of the plaintiffs, who believe they and family members have suffered cancers, birth defects, skin diseases and mental illness because of the plant, would find the settlement paltry.
“We are going to work very very hard and diligently to sign up 100 percent. But at the end of the day, it’s their decision, not ours,” plaintiffs’ attorney William Taylor said, according to a court transcript.
“I can represent to the Court that we probably will not” get 100 percent agreement, plaintiffs’ attorney Ramon Garcia added.
If the agreement falls apart, the Garza case would be the first to be retried, but not before five months from the date it dissolves, and Garza would not be able to produce new experts.
The pesticide plant operated from 1950 to 1967 and by 1972 was an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site and eventually would undergo three cleanups. Residents suspected the area’s birth defects and cancers could be blamed on the cloud of dust regularly stirred up by the plant’s big fan.
A gag order imposed by Ramirez remained in place, but at least one plaintiff, speaking anonymously, said attorneys had “thrown in the towel” and that he, for one, was refusing to sign.
Garza, diagnosed in 1998 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, was a child when the plant, with few precautions, mixed poisons manufactured by the defendants just a few yards from her home. The trial began Oct. 27 with plaintiffs’ attorneys saying the three companies failed to warn the community that the resulting dust was full of toxins.
By then, the 26 companies being sued had dwindled to three, with other firms reaching settlements or being dropped from the lawsuit. The defense maintained there was no way to prove a specific company’s chemical caused a specific illness.
The gag order had made information in the case hard to come by, with court staff and even Judge Ramirez on Wednesday refusing to say more than that the trial was “done, for now.”
Hearst Corp. lawyers persuaded the judge’s staff to release a full docket and allow examination of a court transcript from Nov. 10 describing the settlement.
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