Dow Unit Must Defend Bhopal Claims, Court Rules

David Glovin, Bloomberg.com, November 3, 2008
A lawsuit against Dow Chemical Co.’s Union Carbide stemming from the fatal 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, was reinstated today by a U.S. appeals court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York reinstated claims dismissed by a trial judge in 2006 and 2007 against the unit of Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical, the largest U.S. chemical maker. The appeals court said the judge didn’t give the plaintiffs enough notice to respond to a dismissal bid by the company.
The suit was brought on behalf of people injured after the world’s worst industrial accident, which killed thousands. H. Rajan Sharma, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the decision will enable the plaintiffs to conduct discovery to determine Union Carbide’s role in groundwater contamination from an abandoned chemical facility in Bhopal.
“We’re seeking cleanup, monitoring, and damages for personal injury to at least 20,000 individuals, and property damage,” Sharma said in an interview.
Union Carbide estimated that 3,800 people died from the gas leak. Amnesty International, a human rights group, commissioned a study that showed 7,000 died within days of the leak, and that another 15,000 have since died from exposure to the gas. Dow Chemical paid $12 billion to acquire Union Carbide.
“The Second Circuit didn’t discuss the merits of the case or the merits of the trial judge’s ruling of dismissal,” Tomm Sprick, a Union Carbide spokesman, said today in a phone interview. “It is our belief that the trial judge will follow the Second Circuit’s direction to allow additional proceedings.”
Warren Anderson
The suit, which also names former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson, follows years of litigation. The lower court judge dismissed both an earlier lawsuit and this one. The appeals court ruled that U.S. District Judge John Keenan in New York didn’t give the plaintiffs enough notice before he entertained and granted Union Carbide’s dismissal bid.
The suit by Janki Bai Sahu seeks class-action, or group, status on behalf of others harmed by the water contamination.
Sharma said the plaintiffs will get to review internal Union Carbide documents and question officials before answering to the company’s dismissal request.
The case is Sahu v. Union Carbide, 06-5694, U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).
To contact the reporter on this story: David Glovin in Manhattan federal court at dglovin@bloomberg.net

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