HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — The first lawsuit that claims water contaminated with PFOA led to an illness has been filed by a New York City firm.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a village resident by attorneys with Weitz & Luxenburg in federal court on Wednesday. The complaint alleges that exposure to the man-made chemical through drinking water directly caused resident James Donavan to develop illnesses. Donavan seeks at least $2.5 million in damages to cover medical costs and loss of property value. The complaint also claims negligence against the two companies the state says is responsible and calls for a medical monitoring program for area residents.
The complaint was filed the same day a federal judge appointed the law firm to lead class action lawsuits against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International. Judge Daniel J. Stewart on Wednesday ordered Weitz & Luxenberg and Faraci Lang to serve as co-lead interim class counsel for those suits, and Powers & Santola as liaison counsel for the four related class action cases.
The personal injury lawsuit is the first one filed since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a new law extending the statute of limitations for cases involving hazardous substance exposure. The class action cases are separate and don't address personal injury directly, but do seek to recover damage to property.
The new law makes it possible for Donavan to bring a lawsuit forward, according to Robin L. Greenwald, head of the Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit. Donavan was diagnosed more than three years ago.
"It avoids a legal argument and allows us to proceed on the merits of the case," she told the Banner on Wednesday.
Greenwald said that while she expects more personal injury cases will be filed, it's too early to tell whether the court system would consolidate them.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, has been linked to kidney and testicular cancers, as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol and thyroid problems. It turned up in the Hoosick Falls municipal water supply and numerous private wells. Saint-Gobain and Honeywell last month signed consent orders with the state which hold them responsible for contamination.
Donavan lives with an illness that "continues to significantly hamper and restrict his daily activities and limit life's pleasures," according to the complaint.
He moved to the village in 1992 and lived in a home served by public water, according to the complaint. He met his future wife Sue, who owned and operated the Falls Diner on Route 22. From 1997 to 2014, he regularly ate at and drank tap water, which the complaint notes is adjacent to the former Oak Materials site.
He began experiencing health problems in the mid 1990s. He was in his 40s in 2000, when he was diagnosed with high cholesterol. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which led him to need to change his diet habits. He suffered a severe reaction to medication at one point in 2015.
Since February, residents have brought forward four class action lawsuits against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell. Competing motions by plaintiffs were filed to consolidate the cases and appoint law firms to interim class counsel.
In his order on Wednesday, Judge Stewart wrote the Weitz-Faraci group has been retained by the most individuals, worked closely with the community, and highlighted past experience with groundwater contamination.
A fifth case that the court also deemed related was not part of Stewart's order. A complaint filed by Couch White, LLP for Hoosick Falls Associates, an entity connected with the local Tops Friendly Market, seeks $2.1 million for loss of value to the property on Route 22. Stewart notes in his order that a motion to remand the case to trial court is pending.
Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.