Miss. Supreme Court overturns $14 M award against DuPont, orders new trial

Published 4:15 pm Friday, October 19, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court, citing cumulative errors, overturned Thursday a $15.5 million judgment against DuPont and ordered a new trial in a lawsuit brought by an oyster fisherman who claimed chemicals from a dioxin plant caused his rare blood cancer.

A Jones County jury in 2005 found DuPont DeLisle at fault for causing Glen Strong’s multiple myeloma. Besides the $14 million in compensatory damages to the Bay St. Louis man, the jury awarded Strong’s wife, Connie, $1.5 million for loss of “love and companionship.”

No punitive damages were awarded.

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DuPont DeLisle is located about five miles from Strong’s home. The DeLisle plant makes titanium dioxide, a white pigment used in paint, plastics, toothpaste and other products.

DuPont called no witnesses in its defense, relying on testimony of Strong’s doctors, who testified there is no way to determine the root of multiple myeloma.

Strong’s lawyers claimed dioxins, chemicals that that can be hazardous even in small amounts, entered Strong’s body through the air and by eating oysters harvested from St. Louis Bay. Strong told jurors he ate oysters about four times a week.

The Supreme Court sided with DuPont on several issues the company raised on appeal.

The court said the trial judge erred on allowing into evidence statements from Strong’s two treating physicians several days after the trial already had started.

The court said it agreed with DuPont that the affidavits altered the testimony doctors had given in depositions before trial. Both sets of documents were admitted into evidence.

According to the court record, the doctors said in their depositions that there are no known causes of multiple myeloma. In the affidavits, the doctors altered their testimony to state that they were not experts in the causation of Strong’s multiple myeloma, had no opinion as to the cause of multiple myeloma and specialized only in the treatment of multiple myeloma.

“The affidavits … clearly were not furnished to DuPont sufficiently in advance of the trial to provide DuPont with a fair opportunity to prepare to meet the affidavits. Nor did they (the Strongs) afford DuPont notice of their intention to offer the statement and the particulars of the affidavits,” Justice Chuck Easley wrote in the 6-2 majority opinion of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also upheld DuPont’s challenges to testimony that the court said was irrelevant to the case.

Presiding Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., in a dissent, said there was substantial evidence to support the verdict for the Strongs.

Diaz said the majority of the court was ignoring that DuPont knowingly deposited tons of toxic material into the waters of St. Louis Bay for years, was cited by the government for its dioxin emissions and was aware of the risks to humans exposed to dioxins.

Diaz said he believed the affidavits from the doctors were no different from their depositions.

“The doctors’ statements that they did not know the cause of Strong’s cancer could only help DuPont’s defense,” Diaz said.