On June 2, 2023, Dupont and Chemours announced an AFFF/PFAS proposed class action settlement potentially covering approximately 7,000 public water systems for $1.185 billion, and in July filed a motion seeking MDL Judge Gergel's preliminary approval for a proposed class action settlement.
Three weeks later on June 22nd, 3M announced a similar AFFF/PFAS proposed class action settlement potentially covering a pool of approximately 6,000+ public water systems for a net present value amount of between $10.3 billion and $12.5 billion, to be paid over 13 years. Here too plaintiffs' counsel and 3M's counsel filed a motion in July in the MDL seeking Judge Gergel's preliminary approval of the proposed class action settlement. At an MDL hearing on July 14, 2023, Judge Gergel was told these settlements "are the largest drinking water settlement[s] in history" and that the potential settlement money is on top of "grants" from the federal government available to water entities nearing $10 billion. Gergel emphasized to counsel the potential advantages of the settlement compared with the risks of continuing individual entity litigation and trials in the MDL. The City of Stuart trial has been adjourned and the settlement documents show that the City of Stuart is a specific settling party in the larger settlement document (receiving its own unique but confidential amount).
The proposed settlements certainly have limitations including the fact that other entity plaintiffs, like State AGs, are not included in the agreement, precise dollar allocations for each water district are not yet known, objectors might seek to derail approval, and if too many water systems opt out the companies could theoretically back out of the agreements; but Judge Gergel said that (1) the standard for preliminary approval of the settlement is "a pretty low threshold"; and (2) such preliminary approval could happen within the next 60 days. A settlement fairness hearing could occur in October or November of 2023.
These announced settlements are a potential major positive for existing and potential new AFFF and PFAS personal injury claimants, for the following reasons: (1) the settlements potentially move many other "entity" plaintiffs and claimants out of the MDL and into the settlement structure, substantially clearing and opening the way for the personal injury phase of the MDL litigation to move forward more quickly; (2) attorneys for personal injury claimants may move to accelerate timelines after those set forth in Judge Gergel's May 5, 2023 order, entitled "Second Bellwether Program: Initial Personal Injury Claims," which provides a general structure and timeframe for selecting bellwether plaintiffs; (3) the settlements give 3M, Dupont and Chemours vital breathing room to get relief from the market pressures they have faced regarding "unquantifiable" PFAS/AFFF liabilities by changing the narrative through the ability to quantify at least some portion of their liabilities.
Just as important, the companies' willingness to reach these big dollar settlements right now -- not many years down the road after costly multiple "entity" bellwether trials -- signals a potential willingness to strike deals at the right price. Accordingly, the door is theoretically open for some type of potential future settlement negotiations regarding certain categories of personal injury claimants -- whether primarily victims (firefighters and others) with Leach-study-backed diseases (e.g., kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease) or possibly an even broader group of victims with a wider range of cancers and other injuries.
As the water systems class action settlement works its way towards potential preliminary approval by Judge Gergel, additional court filings and hearings may reveal further information on the personal injury litigation front.