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USA: Judge Tosses Bhopal Lawsuit

by Larry NeumeisterAssociate Press
March 18th, 2003

NEW YORK -- A federal judge threw out a lawsuit Tuesday that sought damages for those living near the deadly 1984 gas leak that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, saying Union Carbide Corp. had done enough and that too much time had passed.

U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan tossed out civil claims against the company and Warren Anderson, its one-time chief executive officer.

The judge rejected arguments raised in a 1999 lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan that tried to revive legal claims stemming from the world's worst industrial accident.

The lawsuit was filed by a woman who said she was injured by ground water contamination after she moved within a quarter mile of the plant's perimeter. Three organizations, described by their lawyers as groups representing victims, joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit needed to overcome earlier court rulings and settlements that limited monetary awards and the jurisdiction of claims. Union Carbide paid $470 million as part of a 1989 out-of-court settlement that guaranteed company executives immunity from prosecution. India's supreme court later struck down the immunity clause, but let the settlement stand.

Keenan noted that Union Carbide sold all of its shares in the 88-acre plant site in September 1994, and used the proceeds to build a hospital in Bhopal.

"Proving the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, plaintiffs are not satisfied by the hospital's existence," Keenan wrote. "This contribution goes far to satisfy any further obligation defendants have to citizens of Bhopal."

Union Carbide accepted moral responsibility for the disaster, but blamed the disaster on sabotage by a disgruntled employee.

About 4,000 people died within hours of a deadly gas leaking from the plant in the central Indian city on Dec. 2, 1984. More than 20,000 were injured. Over the years, the death toll has risen above 14,400 as those sickened by the gas died, according to the Indian government.

The gas leaked from a pesticide plant in which Union Carbide had a 50.9 percent stake.

Dow Chemical, of Midland, Mich., acquired Danbury, Conn.-based Union Carbide in February 2001.

In tossing out the new lawsuit, Keenan noted the plant site is 8,000 miles from the United States and is owned exclusively by the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh.

"Union Carbide has met its obligations to clean up the contamination in or near the Bhopal plant. Having sold their shares long ago and having no connection to or authority over the plaint, they cannot be held responsible at this time," Keenan said.

He said the statute of limitations expired on plaintiff Haseena Bi, who should have filed a lawsuit within three years of discovering her injuries.

The organizations that joined the lawsuit, the judge said, could not sue on behalf of individuals whose claims are not common to the group's entire membership and shared to an equal degree.

Kenneth F. McCallion, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he needed to see the ruling and consult with clients before deciding whether to appeal. The organizations, he said, were the major victims' groups in Bhopal.

The judge rejected demands by the organizations to recover the costs of a medical monitoring program, saying it "would face insurmountable hurdles."

"Locating thousands of people who have resided 8,000 miles away in Bhopal, India, over a span of more than 30 years would be nigh impossible," he said.

He said the effort required to identify citizens to be monitored would be limitless and that the task would be "extremely onerous on defendants, if not impossible."

Keenan said, "Requiring medical monitoring is an extraordinary remedy requiring extensive factual research and imposes a potentially indefinite duty upon defendants to care for a population for which it has already made substantial efforts."

"Union Carbide has met its obligations to clean up the contamination in or near the Bhopal plant. Having sold their shares long ago and having no connection to or authority over the plaint, they cannot be held responsible at this time," Keenan said.





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