597 F.Supp. 740 (E.D.N.Y. 1984), MDL 381, In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation

Docket Nº:MDL 381
Citation:597 F.Supp. 740
Party Name:In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation
Case Date:September 25, 1984
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Eastern District of New York
 
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Page 740

597 F.Supp. 740 (E.D.N.Y. 1984)

In re "AGENT ORANGE" PRODUCT LIABILITY LITIGATION.

MDL No. 381.

United States District Court, E.D. New York.

Sept. 25, 1984

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Stephen J. Schlegel, Schlegel & Trafelet, Ltd., Chicago, Ill.; Benton Musslewhite, Law Offices of Benton Musslewhite, Inc., Houston, Tex.; Thomas Henderson, Henderson & Goldberg, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Phillip E. Brown, Hoberg, Finger, Brown, Cox & Molligan, San Francisco, Cal.; Stanley Chesley, Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, Cincinnati, Ohio; John M. O'Quinn, O'Quinn, Hagans & Wettman, Houston, Tex.; Neil R. Peterson and Gene Locks, Greitzer & Locks, Philadelphia, Pa.; Newton B. Schwartz, Houston, Tex.; Irving Like, Reilly, Like and Schneider, Babylon, N.Y.; David J. Dean, Dean, Falanga & Rose, Carle Place, N.Y.; Aaron Twerski, Hempstead, N.Y., of counsel, for plaintiffs.

Leonard Rivkin, Rivkin, Leff, Sherman & Radler, Garden City, N.Y.; Philip Pakula, Townley & Updike, New York City; Wendell B. Alcorn, Jr., Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, New York City; William Krohley, Kelley, Drye & Warren, New York City; Thomas Beck, Arthur, Dry & Kalish, New York City; Richard Goldstein, Shea & Gould, New York City, of counsel; David M. Gross, Budd, Larner, Kent, Gross, Picillo & Rosenbaum, New York City; Henry G. Miller, Clark, Gagliardi & Miller, White Plains, N.Y.; for defendants.

Arvin Maskin, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for third-party defendant United States.

WEINSTEIN, Chief Judge.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface and Summary ....................................................... 746

Introduction .............................................................. 748

  1. Procedural History .................................................. 750

    A. Jurisdiction ..................................................... 754

    B. Conflict of Laws ................................................. 755

    C. Class Action ..................................................... 755

    D. Status of Third Party Complaints ................................. 757

  2. Fairness Hearings ................................................... 758

    A. Legal Requirements ............................................... 758

    B. Reaction of Class Members ........................................ 764

    1. Hearings ..................................................... 764

    a. Need for Medical Help for Veterans and Financial Help for Those Too Ill to Work ................................... 765

    b. Need for Medical and Financial Aid for Children Born with Birth Defects ........................................... 765

    c. Need for Information on Possible Genetic Damage to Veterans and Their Children ............................. 766

    d. Dissatisfaction with the Veterans Administration and the Treatment Received in its Hospitals ..................... 766

    e. Inadequacy of the Settlement Amount to Pay Adequate Damages ................................................. 767

    f. Failure of Chemical Companies to Admit Fault ............. 768

    g. Failure of Government to Admit Fault, Participate in Settlement and Accept its Responsibility for Caring for Veterans and their Children ......................... 768

    h. Possibility of a Coverup of Information with Sealed Files and Return of Documents to Defendants ................... 769

    i. Need for a Full Open Trial to Vindicate the Plaintiffs and Protect Their Rights to Individual Justice .......... 770

    j. Inability to Decide Whether to Accept Settlement Without Knowing How it Would be Distributed and How Much would be Spent in Attorneys' Fees ............................. 771

    k. Inadequate Payment by Defendants Relative to Their Recources ............................................... 771

    l. Inadequate Time to File Claims ........................... 771

    m. Need to Settle Now to Get on with Life ................... 771

    n. Need for Further Research and Reassurances ............... 772

    2. Written Communications ....................................... 773

  3. Factual Problems with Claims ........................................ 775

    A. Use of Agent Orange in Vietnam ................................... 775

    B. Claimed Effects of Contact with Agent Orange in Vietnam .......... 777

    1. General Considerations ....................................... 777

    2. Plaintiffs' Evidence of Causality ............................ 782

    C. Scientific Studies on Causality .................................. 787

    D. Knowledge of Government and Defendants ........................... 795

  4. Legal Problems with Claims .......................................... 799

    A. Statutes of Limitations .......................................... 800

    1. Introduction ................................................. 800

    2. Standard Multijurisdictional Approach ........................ 800

    a. CPLR 202 ................................................. 800

    b. Application of CPLR 202 to Agent Orange Litigation ....... 802

    c. CPLR 214 ................................................. 804

    3. Single Time-bar Period Based Upon Federal or Nation Consensus Law ......................................................... 804

    a. Federal Substantive Law .................................. 804

    b. National Consensus Law ................................... 804

    4. Single Time-bar Period for Class Actions ..................... 805

    a. General Theory ........................................... 805

    b. Federal .................................................. 806

    c. New York ................................................. 808

    5. Single Time-bar Period for American Veterans Based Upon Interpretation of New York Statute .......................... 810

    a. Constitutionality ........................................ 811

    b. Construing Provisions to Apply to Nonresidents ........... 813

    6. Wives and Children ........................................... 815

    7. Vietnam Veterans Living Abroad ............................... 816

    8. Conclusion on Statutes of Limitations ........................ 816

    B. Failure to Determine Who Was Harmed and Who Caused Harm .......... 816

    1. Facts ........................................................ 817

    2. Law .......................................................... 819

    a. The Problem of the Indeterminate Defendant ............... 819

    (1) Introduction ........................................ 819

    (2) Applicable Law ...................................... 820

    (

    a) Enterprise Liability ........................... 820

    (i) Legal Theory .............................. 820

    (ii) Application of Enterprise Liability Theory to this Case ............................. 821

    (b) Alternative Liability and Its Variations ....... 822

    (i) Legal Theory .............................. 822

    (ii) Application of Alternative Liability to this case ................................ 826

    (c) Defendants' Individual Duty to Warn the Government of Dangers ......................... 828

    (i) Duty to Warn of Danger in Their Own Product 828

    (ii) Duty to Warn of Dangers in Another's Product ...................................... 830

    (d) Summary ........................................ 833

    b. The Problem of the Indeterminate Plaintiff ............... 833

    (1) Scope of the Problem ................................ 834

    (2) Preponderance Rule .................................. 835

    (

    a) Application of the Preponderance Rule to Mass Exposure Cases ................................ 836

    (b) Inadequacy of Individualized Solutions ......... 837

    (3) Possible Solution in a Class Action ................. 837

    (

    a) Analogy and Precedent .......................... 839

    (i) Employment Discrimination Cases ........... 839

    (ii) Consumer Class Actions .................... 840

    (b) Practical Advantages of Class-wide Solution .... 841

    3. Conclusion as to Indeterminate Defendents and Plaintiffs ..... 842

    C. Nature of Liability and Relations to Defense of Government Knowledge ......................................................... 843

    1. Introduction ................................................. 843

    2. Defense Production Act ....................................... 843

    3. Law to be Applied to Government Contract Defense ............. 845

    4. Modification of Government Contract Defense .................. 847

    D. Punitive Damages ................................................. 850

  5. Government Action to Protect Class .................................. 851

    A. Agent Orange Registry ............................................ 852

    B. Medical Care to Veterans Claiming Exposure to Agent Orange ....... 853

    C. Aid to Spouses and Children of Veterans .......................... 853

    D. Exposure Data .................................................... 854

    E. Veterans' Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act 854

  6. Conclusion Concerning Fairness of Settlement ........................ 857

  7. Plan for Distribution of Fund ....................................... 858

    A. General Principles ............................................... 858

    B. National Center for Vietnam Veterans Assistance .................. 859

    C. Veterans' Benefits ............................................... 859

    D. Genetic and Family Counseling .................................... 860

    E. Children with Birth Defects ...................................... 860

    F. Legislation ...................................................... 861

    G. Schedule ......................................................... 861

    H. Attorneys' Fees and Disbursements ................................ 861

    I. Cases Against the Government ..................................... 861

  8. Conclusion .......................................................... 862

  9. Order...

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