Jeff Civins in Law360: $3B Texas Pollution Case Puts Punitives In Play For Gov't

11/18/2014

A Texas county’s unsuccessful quest for a $3 billion penalty against International Paper Inc. for allegedly polluting a river with toxic waste has defense attorneys concerned that the government is showing a new willingness to seek severe punitive damages against companies over sites that have already been remediated.

On Thursday, a Harris County jury found International Paper was not responsible for releasing dioxins into the San Jacinto River from 1973 to 2008. The acquittal followed Waste Management Inc. and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corp.’s $29.2 million settlement in the case, and defense attorneys called the county’s prosecution a “disturbing” exploitation of daily penalties available under state law...

That fresh commitment is unsettling to Jeff Civins, a partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP, who said he could not remember a case in which a governmental plaintiff bringing such a suit was pushing for the maximum daily penalties. He noted that International Paper is already on the hook for remediation costs and that such prosecutions could have a chilling effect on business in the state.

He said regulated companies, even if they clean up all the contamination at a site and reimburse private parties who have been adversely impacted by it, still are exposed to punitive damages suits brought by local governments like Harris County.

Excerpted from Law360, November 18, 2014. View the full article(subscription required).

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