Jury Finds for Merck and Other Defendants on the Key Issue in an Environmental Contamination Lawsuit
March 31, 2011 7:08 am ET
The Company Will Appeal Portion of Finding In Favor of Plaintiffs
Merck is pleased a federal court jury in California found that
plaintiffs were not exposed to contamination in drinking water or ground
water in the Abarca, et al. v. Merck & Co., Inc., et al. case.
The company disagrees with the jury’s finding about whether plaintiffs
possibly could have been exposed to contamination transported by air
between 1969 and 1994 or in canal water that may have left the canal
during a 2006 flood. Merck will appeal that portion of these Phase 1
trial results, which the company believes were not supported by the
evidence and are inconsistent with well-established legal principles.
Merck’s role in this litigation relates to its ownership of the stock of
Baltimore Aircoil Company until 1985. Defendants include Baltimore
Aircoil Company, Amsted Industries Incorporated – a corporation to which
Merck sold the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company in 1985 – and Merck.
Plaintiffs in the case are individuals who live or lived in the
Beachwood neighborhood in Merced County, Calif., near a former
wood-treating facility operated by BAC-Pritchard, a subsidiary of
Baltimore Aircoil Company.
“We are pleased that the jury found that no neighbor of the site was
adversely affected through drinking water or ground water by
BAC-Pritchard’s past wood-treatment operations. We strongly disagree
with the jury’s findings, regarding air or flood water contamination,
which are contrary to actual testing data collected at or near the
former BAC-Pritchard facility,” said Stephen Lewis of Barg Coffin Lewis
and Trapp, LLP, outside counsel for Merck.
The litigation in this case remains in the early stages. Notably, the
Phase 1 trial did not address whether any particular person actually was
exposed to contamination or developed any health problems, nor did this
phase of the proceeding address whether Merck or any other defendant is
liable or whether any plaintiff should be entitled to damages. Should
the portions of the Phase 1 verdict in the plaintiffs favor not be
reversed on post-trial motion or appeal, such matters would be addressed
in subsequent phases of litigation.
Merck, which is a research-based pharmaceutical company, has never
operated any wood-treatment facility. Its role in this case arises
solely from its ownership of the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company
until 1985. Since selling the stock of Baltimore Aircoil Company to
Amsted in 1985, Merck has worked closely with Amsted and state and local
environmental regulators to investigate and remediate groundwater and
soil at the site. Indeed, the agency overseeing the remediation, the
California Regional Water Quality Control Board, in 2009 found that the
remediation activities at the site were proceeding in a satisfactory
manner and that the public was not being exposed to chemicals previously
used at the site.
Judge Oliver Wanger of the Fresno Division of the U.S. District Court
for the Eastern District of California presided over the Phase 1 trial.
Merck is represented by John Barg, Stephen Lewis and Morgan Gilhuly of
the law firm of Barg Coffin Lewis and Trapp, LLP.
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