May 28, 2024

PFAS Litigation Lawyers Share Insights in L&C Complex Litigation Class

Lewis & Clark law students in Professor Robert Klonoff’s Complex Litigation class had the unique opportunity to learn from top PFAS litigation lawyers. Their virtual visit highlighted the significance of private enforcement in environmental litigation, emphasizing the practical experiences students gain under the guidance of faculty like Professor Klonoff.

Lewis & Clark Law School students recently had the unique opportunity to learn from top PFAS (“forever chemicals”) litigation lawyers in Professor Robert Klonoff’s Complex Litigation class. The virtual visit featured esteemed attorneys Rebecca Newman, Gary Douglas, Michael London, Elizabeth Fegan, and Frederick Longer, who provided an in-depth look into one of the most significant environmental legal battles of our time.

This litigation team has been at the forefront of PFAS cases, representing communities affected by these “forever chemicals.” Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals that have been used in consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. They are ingredients in various everyday products. The origins of the litigation trace back to the C8 cases, which inspired the documentary “Dark Waters” starring Mark Ruffalo. What began with a farmer in West Virginia uncovering the toxic impacts of chemicals dumped by DuPont has grown into a global issue, with PFAS found in nearly every corner of the earth.

During the session, students learned about the genesis of PFAS litigation and the extensive contamination caused by these chemicals. The attorneys discussed the various stages of the case, from the initial discovery of PFAS toxicity to the groundbreaking settlements reached with major corporations like DuPont and 3M. Gary Douglas, who led the first three trials, emphasized the importance of these early victories in putting pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and raising public awareness.

“If we had left this in the hands of the EPA, this huge settlement achievement never would have happened. Private enforcement is incredibly important in many areas of law, but especially in environmental litigation,” said Professor Robert Klonoff. This sentiment was echoed by the guest speakers, who highlighted how private litigation played a crucial role in achieving justice and remediation for affected communities.

The discussion also covered the complexities of the PFAS Multi-District Litigation (MDL), which consolidated numerous cases from across the country. The MDL addressed not only personal injury claims but also claims from water providers, fisheries, and others impacted by PFAS contamination. The litigation team shared their experiences in navigating these intricate legal waters, emphasizing the teamwork and extensive coordination required to manage such a vast and multifaceted case.

Students were particularly impressed by the attorneys’ dedication to holding corporations accountable and their innovative approaches to litigation. Lindsey Latimer ’25 shared how “It was fascinating to learn about the processes that ended up being crucial to their success, such as dividing and conquering by building on each lawyer’s strengths.”

The lawyers described their efforts to trace PFAS contamination through chemical fingerprinting and their work to ensure fair settlements for all affected parties. The session provided a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world of environmental litigation and underscored the significant impact that skilled, committed lawyers can have on public health and safety.

Professor Klonoff’s connections and expertise brought these renowned lawyers into the classroom, offering students a unique learning experience. The insights and stories shared by the PFAS litigation team not only enriched the students’ understanding of complex litigation but also inspired them to consider the powerful role they can play in the legal field.