New Vermont Law Permits Lawsuits Seeking Medical Monitoring for Toxic Exposure

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill into law Thursday that will allow people exposed to toxic substances to sue the culpable facility for medical testing or procedures to monitor for diseases from the exposure.

The governor’s bill signing came three days after U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford gave final approval to a $34 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against a plastics company over toxic chemical contamination of soil and groundwater in the Bennington area. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation will pay $26.2 million into a fund to compensate Bennington area property owners for alleged damages and $6 million for a program to monitor the health of those exposed to perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA.

The legislation was based on Crawford’s decision to allow medical monitoring as a remedy, said Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington.

“It will make a huge difference for people that suffer the kind of contamination that folks down here in Bennington did and North Bennington,” Sears said of the legislation. “It’s taken … at least five years for the suit to wind its way through the federal courts and for Judge Crawford’s decision.”

The law, which takes effect in July, exempts small businesses with less than 10 full-time employees, he said. Scott had twice vetoed medical monitoring legislation. The legislation also allows the state to sue manufacturers of hazardous material “who knew or should have known that the material presented a threat of harm to human health or the natural environment” for the costs of the cleanup of a release of such material.

Judge Approves Settlement Over PFOA Contamination of Vermont Community

“Signing this bill is an important step towards holding polluters responsible and signals support for families and communities who should no longer bear the financial burden as victims of toxic pollution,” said Jon Groveman of the Vermont Natural Resources Council in a statement.

Emily Joselin, an attorney representing the Bennington area residents in the class-action lawsuit, said it will still be costly and challenging to bring claims.

“These cases take years to litigate,” she said in written testimony filed with the legislature. “The defendant companies either have insurance coverage, or internal financial resources, sufficient to hire the most expensive and best equipped defense law firms available, as well as to retain as many high-priced expert witnesses as necessary.”

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