picture: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
A captivating article inside the new york times remaining week profiled Robert Bilott, a lawyer at a Cincinnati-based corporate regulation company, who “have become DuPont’s worst nightmare”, in line with the item’s headline. In brief, Bilott works inside the environmental law exercise of regulation firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and had been protecting huge chemical groups and helping them observeenvironmental norms.
Then, in 1999, Bilott started out representing a farmer in West Virginia, in a city that became for all intents and functions owned by DuPont, which operated a large chemical substances plant there. The farmer’s cows all died horribly, which later, after a few years of research, secret documents and courtroom orders, emerged was the result of poisoning of the nearby water table that had been polluted with tonnes of dumped PFOA (perflurooctanoic acid), a fairly poisonous non-degradable chemical utilized inmanufacturing the non-stick Teflon cloth at DuPont’s nearby factory.
problem is, despite internal DuPont studies having allegedly shown its harmful results for decades, publicly the corporation had persisted to disclaim and bitterly fight all claims by means of the onesallegedly poisoned by PFOA.
consistent with Bilott, every single man or woman in the US presently has a few PFOA of theirbloodstream due to tainted water substances, and the chemical has been detected in polar bears in Alaska, and fish and birds 1/2 an ocean away.
thus far, so Erin Brockovich.
but for me, an essential takeaway right here other than the brazenness of corporate denials and secrecythat is harking back to massive Tobacco denying smoking-cancer links for many years, is that this befellwithin the US, a country this is supposedly much less corrupt than India, in keeping with maximumreviews.
It’s clear that within the case of DuPont (as inside the case of Wall street, big Pharma and perilous drugs, the oil industry with Deepwater Horizon, and countless different risky industries), there has been one systemic failure after some other with the regulatory system co-opted as a pliant extension of corporate the united states.
In India, searching at haphazard law till now on something as sincere as air pollutants, one shudders toreflect onconsideration on the actual nation of river water resources and different locations whereinenterprise absolute confidence disposes of its toxic waste.
The best actual source of desire inside the DuPont case is the us legal gadget and the object’s protagonist lawyer, due to the fact the us is such that there can without a doubt be profit made for alawyer willing to chase huge organizations hurting consumers or the environment.
the us can also frequently be derided as litigious to a daft quantity, with courts and juries awarding multimillion dollar damages and attorneys getting similar quantities, however it can act as a importantcheck and balance on corporate greed and be a strong driver in encouraging compliance with environmental legal guidelines.
If there are no doubtlessly dire financial outcomes for a company that pollutes, there may be littlepurpose for maximum groups not to pollute.
In India, the legal system can do little or no. aside from rampant judicial delays, the maximum one canhope in the case of environmental pollution, such as inside the Bhopal fuel catastrophe or endlessothers, is that some publicly minded lawyers donate their time seasoned bono for years to go after the corporates, that are continually better funded with nearly endless lawyer time at their disposal.
the main tool to be had to lawyers is the venerable public interest litigation (PIL), to nudge governmentdepartments to do their activity well and once in a while acquire a small quantity of damages, or drawing close the national inexperienced Tribunal (NGT).
notwithstanding the slow pace of cases, contingency charge arrangements (CFAs) could be useful in such conditions. In CFAs, a attorney consents not to price any prices in any respect, until the case isreceived, wherein case the legal professional can get a percent of the damages presented.
collectively with elegance movements, where loads or hundreds of plaintiffs get collectively and suecollectively as one large organization, submitting civil fits for damages in opposition to errantorganizations should end up moneymaking paintings for attorneys.
sadly, CFAs are forbidden under the Indian Advocates Act, in part due to the antiquated nature of felonypolicies and the concern of ambulance-chasing lawyers clogging up the courts further.
however the advantages might greatly outweigh the hazards. In a country where access to justice isextremely depending on the monetary assets to be had to claimants, and wherein the ones sufferingmost from environmental damage have a tendency to be the poor dwelling in rural areas, the onlymanner to ever permit justice to provide remedies in such cases could be thru CFAs and a sturdymachine of sophistication motion.
the nearest factor to magnificence movement in India is the venerable PIL, even though that is a bluntinstrument that some courts frown upon and which usually does not yield charge of foremost damages.
nevertheless, CFAs and class action are a long way from a panacea even within the US whileconfronted with corporate might.
no matter probably sitting on one among the most important class action proceedings in US history, Bilott does no longer quite turn out to be a winner. He and his company made a worthwhile $21.7 million in contingency charges for three years’ paintings inside the first $70 million magnificence actionsettlement with DuPont in 2004.
but when you consider that then, after looking forward to seven years for the effects of scientificresearch proving that there was a “possibly hyperlink” among PFOA and certain cancers and diseasesand launching a category action of three,535 plaintiffs in opposition to DuPont, the business enterprisehas fought each man or woman claim relating to PFOA bitterly and might preserve to accomplish that.
Bilott emerges because the tragic hero of the piece, after a possible worried breakdown and pressuresinside the company to generate sales, and after different clients drop the company for going so aggressively after DuPont, a large of the industry.