Most sums small Rather than face 10 years of litigation, attorneys at Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. say they will agree to pay a $50 million settlement involving 6,000 residents in Columbus, Miss.
Details for the agreement will be negotiated this weekend and a settlement is expected to be signed next week, Kerr-McGee attorney Peter Nickles said.
The Oklahoma City-based corporation's directors will vote on the agreement when they meet in early July.
Nickles said the settlement involves several lawsuits filed within the past three years against Kerr-McGee Chemical's Columbus plant.
The facility uses creosote, a possible cancer-causing agent, to convert timber into railroad ties. State environmental analysts found high levels of chemicals in ditches from the plant in 1999.
Plaintiff's attorney Hunter Lundy said he expects residents of the north Mississippi community to accept the settlement terms.
He said 322 plaintiffs who claimed they developed diseases or ailments from living near the Columbus plant are being offered $18 million.
The 6,000 plaintiffs who said chemicals from the plant damaged their land could be paid $32 million, Lundy said. Some plaintiffs who claimed illness also have property damage claims.
"The whole settlement is a very fair settlement under the circumstances," Lundy said. "The offer won't be on the table long. They will pay the people who accept it and the others, the money will be off the table."
Kerr-McGee representatives say the settlement is not an admission of fault.
"Our environmental performance has been nationally recognized for environmental responsibility, and our plants operate safely and have not harmed anyone," Kerr-McGee spokeswoman Debbie Schramm said.
"We have concluded that doing this is best for the company, shareholders, employees and the community."
Kerr-McGee attorney Nickles said the settlement agreement stipulates that there was no harm done by the plant to property or to individuals.
Kerr-McGee is agreeing to settle the case to make peace with the community and avoid protracted litigation that could go on for 10 years and maybe longer with appeals from both sides.
"This way, we put this litigation behind us and move on."
Although $50 million is a large sum, the great majority of people will receive less than $1,000, Nickles said. Most plaintiffs will get $300 to $400.
Nickles blamed the lawsuits on a litigious culture in Mississippi, where lawyers frequently recruit plaintiffs to participate in legal actions.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has singled out Mississippi as a haven for lawsuits, he said.
Plaintiff attorney Lundy said the settlement should dispose of most pending cases against the company in state and federal courts in Mississippi.
A similar but separate $100 million lawsuit against Kerr-McGee, brought by Maranatha Faith Center, is still unresolved but in settlement negotiations, said Orlando Richmond, an attorney for the church.
Richmond, who also represents some of the clients who accepted the $50 million settlement, said he hopes the church can reach a deal with the company in about two weeks.
The Columbus plant opened in 1928 under the ownership of Moss-American. Kerr-McGee acquired it in 1964. The facility employs about 30 people.Archive ID: 1036035