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Doe Run settles lawsuits after veto override

Confidential agreement reached with seven plaintiffs; cases pending for 16 more

The Doe Run smelter in Herculaneum exposed nearby children to levels of lead dust that exceed current federal standards, plaintiffs in a lawsuit allege. File photo

The Doe Run smelter in Herculaneum exposed nearby children to levels of lead dust that exceed current federal standards, plaintiffs in a lawsuit allege. File photo

Two days after lawmakers overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a law to protect The Doe Run Co. from large punitive damage awards, the company settled three lawsuits alleging injuries from lead pollution.

The confidential settlements reached Sept. 13 followed three days of mediation over about two weeks, said plaintiffs’ attorney Maurice Graham, of St. Louis firm Gray, Ritter & Graham.

A trial was set for Oct. 8 in the cases over seven plaintiffs’ alleged injuries and learning disabilities. The timing of the settlement had more to do with the approaching trial, which had been expected to last seven to eight weeks, than the legislation, Graham said.

“We’re pleased to have these seven cases resolved, and I believe that both parties recognized the importance of avoiding the expense and uncertainty of trial and the time required by an appeal,” Graham said.

He emphasized that the parties cannot talk about the terms or the amount of the settlements.

In a statement emailed by a Doe Run spokeswoman, Matt Wohl, vice president of law for the company, said the settlement is being documented.

“Doe Run is pleased to have been able to resolve these cases,” but won’t be commenting further in keeping with its policy not to talk about pending litigation, the statement said.

The new Doe Run law bars the award of punitive damages in a lawsuit if the defendant company made, or is making, good-faith efforts to remediate former mine sites. It also caps punitive damages at $2.5 million per lawsuit, regardless of the number of defendants.

Lawyers will meet with the judge Oct. 24 about trial dates for cases pending for an additional 16 plaintiffs, Graham said.

“If those cases go to trial, clearly the legislation limiting punitive damages will be challenged as being unconstitutional,” Graham said.