(Springfield, MO): A federal jury in Springfield, MO has found a Missouri-based ball bearings manufacturer responsible for exposing a 27-year-old woman to a toxic chemical that has left her with a host of permanent disabilities. The jury’s verdict calls for FAG Bearings, of Joplin, MO, to pay Jodelle L. Kirk, a total of $20.6 million, which includes $13 million in punitive damages and $7.6 million in actual damages. FAG Bearings is a subsidiary of Schaeffler Group North America. The jury reached its verdict for punitive damages on Monday (3-21) after two hours of deliberation. And it decided the actual damages on Friday (3-18) after a day and a half of deliberating. Ms. Kirk, of Silver Creek, MO, was diagnosed in 2002 with a very rare and life-threatening disease called Autoimmune Hepatitis. She was 14 at the time. Testimony at the trial revealed that the disease was caused by a chemical called trichloroethene, commonly known as TCE, a solvent used to clean metal parts that FAG Bearings dumped in 36 known locations around its property from 1971, when it opened its Joplin plant, to at least 1982.
The company dumped about 40 tons of TCE a year on its property and did it on weekends so it would not be discovered. A hydrologist who studied the site for years and testified for the Plaintiff said it was the most TCE he had ever seen dumped by any kind of industrial user.
The chemical seeped into the ground, nearby creeks and ultimately the water supply that served the Silver Creek, MO community.
Ms. Kirk was exposed to the TCE while her mother was pregnant with her, said the Plaintiff’s lead attorney, Kenneth B. McClain, of the Independence, MO firm of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain.
Ms. Kirk got in contact with the contaminated soil by four-wheeling through her neighborhood as a child and from the streams and creeks where she often played. As a result of the exposure, Ms. Kirk has to use chemotherapy drugs, which will not allow her to get pregnant. And she will likely have to receive a liver transplant in the future.