July 20, 2024

The Firefighting Foam Lawsuit Takes an Interesting Turn: What You Should Know

Since 2017, the Federal courts have been involved in a new litigation that has impacted hundreds of thousands of people – the firefighting foam lawsuit. This lawsuit was consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL) in 2018.

It is still an ongoing battle for justice, having its home venue at the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Though seemingly innocent, the white foam that effectively extinguishes the worst of fires is toxic.

The litigation is specifically against Class B firefighting foam, also known as the Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). This foam is mainly used to put out fast-spreading liquid-fuel fires. It is possible due to the low viscosity of the chemicals making up the foam–per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS.

However, these chemicals are also the reason why the firefighting foam lawsuit became necessary in the first place. In this article, we will discuss this litigation, gradually progressing towards an interesting turn that took place recently.

The Basic Two Branches of Litigation

Firefighters have been using PFAS-based AFFF for decades since the production of these chemicals. PFAS are a group of over 12,000 chemicals, each with a strong carbon-fluoride bond. It is this bond that has left scientists and environmentalists concerned.

The bond is so strong that modern science currently has no surefire way to break it down. This means PFAS, once released into the environment, cannot degrade naturally. It was no problem if the chemicals posed no threat to human life or the environment.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The premise of the AFFF lawsuit is that firefighters exposed to PFAS for extended periods developed cancer, especially of the testicles and kidneys. Studies have deemed at least the most widely studied PFAS, or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as carcinogenic to humans.

According to TruLaw, this is precisely why all cases in this litigation were divided into two basic categories – water contamination lawsuits and personal injury lawsuits. The former was filed by municipalities experiencing underground water pollution.

The latter category of cases was filed by firefighters and military servicemen suffering from cancer due to PFAS exposure.

A Recent Case Management Order for Turnout Gear-Specific Cases

Up until recently, the court was mainly focused on the firefighting foam aspect of personal injury cases. However, there was a major shift that took place in early 2024. The plaintiff’s counsel has directed their attention towards manufacturers of firefighting turnout gear.

It was discovered that the protective clothing that firefighters wear also had a coating of PFAS. The turnout gear protects firefighters from chemical exposure and the high heat of the flames. It is believed that this was due to the chemicals’ ability to repel oil, grease, and water. Naturally, the exposure only increased the risk of cancer among these professionals.

Based on the plaintiffs’ contention, the court issued a new case management order. It established all the procedures on how to create, submit, and manage the facts sheet for turnout gear-specific cases. The court has made this a new requirement so that all plaintiffs alleging that the turnout gear is responsible for their injury could fill the fact sheet.

Litigation Progression and Settlement Predictions

Last year, the Bellwether trials for water contamination case settlements were held. The case chosen for the trial was Florida’s City of Stuart vs. 3M & Co. et al. Finally, the verdict fell in favor of the plaintiff’s counsel.

3M agreed to pay $10.3 billion for 13 years to detect, manage, and remove PFAS from municipal groundwater. Immediately after the trial verdict, lawyers began estimating individual payouts. There was a separate class of Telomere-based firefighting foam lawsuits that needed attention.

Telomere-based AFFF is said to be less toxic than PFAS-based foam. Attorneys are currently preparing for this trial. Had it not been in the picture, the personal injury lawsuits would have been taken up.

Now with the focus shifting towards the firefighting turnout gear, the litigation is only expected to get dragged further. When can we expect trials and settlements? It does not seem like firefighters will get the justice they seek this year.

It seems that the verdict even for personal injury cases will be given in the plaintiff’s counsel’s favor. However, the trials may begin sometime in 2025. Depending on how smoothly things proceed, an average settlement amount will be disclosed. Only then will military personnel be handed their compensation.

In any case, it still seems too early to provide an exact date. As of now, attorneys are preparing for Telomer-based firefighting foam case trials. Meanwhile, 3M has given its word that PFAS production will be completely stopped by the end of 2025.

Companies are researching non-toxic alternatives for firefighting foam. Will they be as effective as PFAS-based foam? At least that is what the hope is!


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