ATTICA, Ind.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Kraft Foods Global, Inc. will pay $8.1 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by 124 families in Attica, Indiana, who alleged that pollution from a local Kraft-owned factory contaminated the air and water inside their homes. Under the terms of the agreement, Kraft is also required to clean up the plant site and groundwater, and install mitigation systems in affected homes. The settlement was approved last Friday afternoon by a US District Court judge in Indianapolis.
A team of experienced lawyers from two small Chicago-area law firms represented the plaintiffs. Known as The Pollution Lawyers, they are Shawn Collins and Ed Manzke, of the Collins Law Firm in Naperville, IL, and Norm Berger and Mike Hayes of Varga Berger in Chicago. Commented Collins, “The residents of Attica faced an invisible enemy. These kinds of cancer-causing chemicals are odorless and colorless. And those who caused the problem are almost always telling you ‘not to worry.’ But people must take steps to protect themselves.”
Norm Berger continued, “It’s extremely difficult for an individual to go toe-to-toe with a big company, like Kraft. And, let’s face it, when there’s pollution it’s very unlikely that just one or even a small number of local families are impacted. That’s why class actions are effective in contamination cases. We’re pleased that the residents of Attica had their day in court, and that the end result here, besides monetary compensation, is clean-up of the area and improved quality of life for these families.”
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the chemicals were spilled on plant property beginning in 1957. Families in the vicinity of the plant claimed that chemicals such as cleaning fluids were dumped into the ground, thereby contaminating the groundwater – which in turn allowed cancer-causing vapors to migrate up from the groundwater and into their homes.
The chemicals released into the Attica groundwater included vinyl chloride (“VC”), trichloroethylene (“TCE”) and tetrachloroethylene (“PCE”). These chemicals were discovered in testing to be present in homes in the impacted area. Residents such as Mary Bowles, one of the class plaintiffs, say that at first, it seemed like a pipedream that they’d ever be able to hold a corporate behemoth like Kraft accountable for its factory in Attica. Comments Bowles, “Our system of justice may have its skeptics, but when people of modest means in small-town America can be heard and taken seriously by a company like Kraft Global Foods, that is a system I’ll hold near and dear.” Attorney Collins adds, “We’re elated that the resolution of this matter will bring some greater level of peace of mind to those in Attica who never bargained for the situation in which they found themselves. If nothing else, the settlement amount for each family will allow them a relocation option they didn’t have before.”
When plaintiff class member Rod Andres purchased his home near the shuttered Kraft factory in 2007, he was unaware that property contamination came at no additional charge. He says, “The settlement money will be a blessing, that’s for sure. It will help all of us who saw their property values tank after the contamination became known. At least some of that value is now recovered.”
Naturally, residents are concerned not only about the effects the chemicals have on their property values, but also on their health. Prolonged exposure to VC, TCE and/or PCE can cause cancer. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, exposure to TCE may result in liver and kidney damage, heart beat changes and facial nerve damage. Commented Mike Hayes, one of The Pollution Lawyers, “As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs have the right to bring a separate, personal injury action against Kraft, if somewhere down the line, someone gets seriously sick. Legally, it’s important to preserve that right.”
The Pollution Lawyers have represented many thousands of people in environmental contamination class action suits over the past decade, and recovered in excess of $65 million from polluters. Their cases are typically “David vs. Goliath” scenarios against large companies with the significant resources to hire the country’s largest law firms and most expensive lawyers in their defense. Since 2002, in each contamination case they’ve handled on behalf of “the little guy,” they’ve been able to secure significant relief for families. For more information: www.collinslaw.com or www.vblhc.com.