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2nd Circuit OKs Suit Over Alleged Union Carbide Water Pollution in Bhopal, India

Posted Nov 4, 2008 3:00 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Nearly 25 years after a catastrophic accident in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people, a federal appeals court in the U.S. has reinstated a 2004 lawsuit concerning those allegedly exposed to toxic drinking water and contaminated soil after the 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide Corp. pesticide plant there.

Although the company, which is now owed by Dow Chemical, paid $470 million in 1989 to settle claims directly related to the accident, the allegations of contaminated groundwater and soil arose later and are argued to have affected a broader group of individuals, according to Reuters and Dow Jones.

A three-judge panel of the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a federal trial court in Manhattan should have given the plaintiffs more opportunity for discovery rather than granting the defendants' summary judgment motion. In addition to Union Carbide, the defendants in the 2004 litigation include Warren Anderson, a former chief executive officer for the company. The 2004 litigation reportedly was filed after a 1999 case making similar allegations was dismissed.

In a written statement, however, the company pointed out that the court ruling is procedural, and said it still expects the case to be dismissed later.

"In an order Monday, the [appeals court] found a lower court judge failed to give the parties sufficient notice to respond after he converted the defendants' motion to dismiss the case to a motion for summary judgment," explains the Dow Jones article.

The December 1984 leak at the plant in central India is considered the world's worst-ever industrial accident. Some 3,800 people died from inhaling toxic fumes, and "many more have died from gas-related illnesses," Reuters notes.

"We've waited since 1999 to get our day in court and we look forward to proceeding," attorney Richard Lewis of Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll tells the news agency. He is representing plaintiffs in the case.

"We're seeking cleanup, monitoring, and damages for personal injury to at least 20,000 individuals, and property damage,'' another plaintiffs lawyer, H. Rajan Sharma, told Bloomberg.

The suit, in which class action status is sought, is Sahu v. Union Carbide, No. 06-5694.

Additional coverage:

Sify News: "Bhopal tragedy: Case against Union Carbide in US reinstated"\

Union Carbide: "Bhopal Information Center"

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