Understanding the PFAS Class Action and Its Potential Nationwide Impact

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In recent legal developments, a federal appeals court is preparing to assess one of the most extensive class actions in history. This legal action, driven by the controversial PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances), could impact similar lawsuits across the nation, leaving millions of Ohio residents awaiting the verdict. 

Key Points: 

  • The 3M Co. and others are challenging a district court’s approval of a class action that could impact 11.8 million Ohio residents. 
  • The case’s outcome at the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit may influence PFAS lawsuits countrywide. 
  • The district court proposed a class of Ohio residents with specific PFAS levels in their blood serum. 
  • The Sixth Circuit’s concerns include the high potential liability and constraints on equity power. 
  • The broader the class, the more challenging it becomes to pinpoint commonalities and address the plaintiffs’ issues. 

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been the subject of several legal disputes due to their potential health impacts. In this case, attorneys for Kevin D. Hardwick, the plaintiff-appellee, argue for a scientific panel to study the health effects of PFAS. Their position emphasizes that if this case qualifies as one of the most extensive class actions, it’s because the number of affected individuals by the defendants is one of the largest historically. 

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has expressed several reservations about the district court’s decision. The court highlighted that the proposed PFAS threshold of 0.05 parts per trillion (ppt) is currently undetectable with available technology. Furthermore, the Sixth Circuit criticized the court’s decision based on a questionable standing theory and failure to apply a cohesion requirement. Such stipulations might pose massive liabilities for the defendants, potentially surpassing $10 billion, if even a tenth of the class were found to need medical monitoring. 

According to Lauren Brogdon from Haynes & Boone LLP, regardless of the decision’s direction, its ripple effects will be felt throughout the country. If the Sixth Circuit upholds the district court’s ruling, it will likely result in additional appeals and spark similar lawsuits. Conversely, if they reject the class designation, it will provide insights for Hardwick’s legal team and future plaintiffs on structuring their class actions more effectively. 

This isn’t the first time PFAS cases have sought scientific insights. Previous victories resulted in scientific studies and medical monitoring for West Virginia and Ohio residents, particularly those exposed to the infamous PFAS variant, PFOA, from a DuPont factory. These cases concluded with DuPont and Chemours Co. agreeing to pay $671 million in settlements for personal injury cases. 

The case, “Kevin Hardwick v. 3M Co.,” exemplifies the complexities and intricacies of mass torts, particularly when considering large classes of affected individuals. The outcome, regardless of its direction, is poised to influence the landscape of PFAS-related lawsuits and the pursuit of justice for countless affected individuals. 

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