A South Carolina federal judge on Monday halted a Florida city's imminent bellwether trial against 3M over water contamination from so-called forever chemicals after the parties predicted a major settlement in the "near future."
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel paused a trial set to kick off Monday over the Florida city of Stuart's claims that firefighting foam purchased from the conglomerate leached per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, into local drinking and bathing water.
The city's case was chosen as the first firefighting foam bellwether in a multidistrict litigation over PFAS, a family of long-lasting surfactants that were long used in a broad array of products but that some researchers have linked to serious effects like cancers and thyroid damage.
Judge Gergel wrote Monday that 3M and the plaintiffs "informed the court last evening that they have reached a stage ... where they believe a final binding agreement is achievable in the near future and that they believe their time could be more effectively spent finalizing the agreement."
The parties have three weeks to reach a binding deal or must be ready for a more or less immediate rescheduled trial, the judge ordered.
Attorneys for Stuart had said Friday that the trial was still set to start as planned after a blockbuster settlement with other plaintiffs. DuPont, Chemours and Corteva reported they had struck a deal worth more than $1.1 billion with water companies around the U.S. over polluted water.
Stuart, like the other water provider plaintiffs, alleges the company contaminated its wells with the chemicals.
The plaintiffs say 3M, DuPont and others knew the "aqueous film-forming foam" contained PFAS, which can damage the environment and cause health issues.
3M spokesman Sean Lynch said in a statement Monday that the parties "are making material and significant progress toward a resolution of this matter."
He added, "3M will continue to address other litigation by defending ourselves in court or through negotiated resolutions, all as appropriate."
Plaintiffs counsel Paul Napoli said in a statement Monday, "While we understand the need for additional time, we remain committed to seeking justice for the affected communities. We are hopeful that this delay will lead to a meaningful settlement in the near term, providing relief and closure to those impacted by this issue."
DuPont and spinoff Chemours agreed in 2017 to pay $670 million to settle personal injury MDL cases over a type of PFAS known as PFOA, or C8, after several bellwether trials.
The plaintiffs are represented by Napoli Shkolnik LLP, Baron and Budd LLP, Douglas & London PC and Levin Papantonio.
3M is represented by Wilkinson Stekloff LLP.
The cases are City of Stuart, Florida v. The 3M Co. et al., case number 2:18-cv-3487, and In re: Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation, case number 2:18-mn-02873, both in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.