Since 1998, the city of Modesto, California, has engaged in a series of lawsuits against Dow Chemical and PPG Industries for selling tetrachloroethylene (perc) to drycleaners across the city – a product attributed to causing the contamination of the soil and groundwater at 23 former plant locations. In mid-October, the 24-year-old case took a step forward when a 12-member jury hit Dow Chemicals and PPG Industries with a $4 million verdict in damages to Modesto for cleanup costs of one site at 409 Seventh St.
The 11-day trial began on Oct. 3. According to Law360, the jury found Dow’s drycleaning solvent to have a “design defect” and they did not warn customers properly about contamination risks. Though Dow did not directly sell the product – it was sold by distributors – the jury believed Dow and PPG did not give sufficient warnings to the third-party brokers.
That ruling was followed by another later in the month when the San Francisco Superior Court found Dow Chemical had acted with “malice” and fined them $56.3 million in punitive damages for its role in manufacturing the chemicals that caused the groundwater and soil contaminations. The jury did not include PPG Industries in the levy of damages.
Modesto officials were pleased with the recent verdicts. A statement from Dow noted the company will seek an appeal, claiming: “The city of Modesto did not present any evidence that Dow acted with malice related to the manufacture and sale of dry-cleaning solvent DowPer. In addition, the punitive damages awarded by the jury far exceeded limits imposed by the U.S. Constitution and California law. Dow will appeal to overturn this verdict in which the jury clearly disregarded the evidence.”
Meanwhile, the lawsuits are far from over. Modesto plans to continue pursuing litigation for more than 20 other contaminated former drycleaning establishments that are now homes, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, gyms, barbershops and more.