Sterigenics trial: $363 million verdict against Willowbrook company in first trial over toxic gas emissions
CHICAGO - A Cook County jury on Monday ruled that Sterigenics and two other companies should pay $363 million in damages for exposing a woman and thousands of other Willowbrook residents to dangerous levels of cancer-causing ethylene oxide gas.
After a five-week trial, the jury began deliberations Friday following closing arguments and reconvened Monday morning.
The medical tool sterilization company Sterigenics was accused of releasing the toxic gas from its Willowbrook plant from 1985 to 2019, causing cancer in a woman who lived nearby.
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The verdict exceeded the $346 million that lawyers for plaintiff Sue Kamuda asked for in closing arguments Thursday against Sterigenics, parent company Sotera Health and its corporate predecessor Griffith Foods.
Kamuda is among more than 700 other people who have sued Sterigenics since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published research in 2018 that showed people living near the plant got cancer at rates nine times above the national average.
Sterigenics’s Willowbrook plant was temporarily shut down by the state in 2019 after authorities detected ethylene oxide nearby. Facing public pressure, Sterigenics closed the plant permanently.
The outcome of this case will likely affect the rulings in the other cases.
Protest organizer Neringa Zymancius of Darian leads protesters in a chant in front of the Oak Brook headquarters of Sterigenics Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 in Oak Brook, Ill. Sterigenics used ethylene oxide gas in nearby Willowbrook to sterilize items as (Mark Black/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images / Getty Images)
In closing arguments last Thursday, Kamuda’s lawyers argued that Sterigenics released gas at levels thousands of times above the limits government scientists agreed were safe. But the defendants argued that ethylene oxide gas was never released at dangerous levels, and that scientific research still hasn’t proven a link between the gas and cancer in humans.
After the verdict, Kamuda’s lawyer Lance D. Northcutt said: "We are immensely thankful to the jury for sitting through such a lengthy trial and for providing Sue with the justice she deserves. But this verdict is about more than Sue, it’s about holding these companies accountable.
"There are many more cases to be tried and we hope Sue’s case sets a precedent that Sterigenics cannot distort science with money, and they should be held liable for gambling with people’s lives," Northcutt said in a statement.