US court reinstates Bhopal victims’ case against Union Carbide

November 4th, 2008 - 12:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Nov 4 (IANS) A New York court has reinstated a case filed against Union Carbide by residents of India’s Bhopal town who claim to have suffered serious health problems due to a gas leak from the company’s plant in 1984, rated the world’s worst industrial disaster. On the night of Dec 2-3, 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the central Indian town of Bhopal spewed tonnes of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, killing some 3,000 people instantly and many more later.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by a group of people who live in the vicinity of the pesticide plant in Bhopal. They claim they suffered serious health problems due to soil and water contamination in the area by the leakage of toxic gas from the plant run by Union Carbide.

The case was previously dismissed by a trial court in 2006 and 2007. Reinstating the case, the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan) Monday said the lower courts did not give the plaintiff enough notice to respond to Union Carbide’s bid to dismiss the case.

“We view this as a close case,” US Circuit Judge Robert D. Sack said. “But we think there is a reasonable likelihood that, in light of the peculiarly difficult procedural history of this and related litigation, the plaintiffs were not aware that they were in danger of an adverse grant of summary judgment based on the submissions prior to the district court’s order converting the motion and then deciding it.”

Welcoming the court’s decision, H. Rajan Sharma, the attorney representing the Bhopal gas victims, said the judgment would enable them to conduct a detailed study on the role of the Union Carbide in the contamination of groundwater in Bhopal.

Sharma said the lawsuit is seeking cleanup, monitoring, and damages for personal injury caused to about 20,000 individuals along with property damages. The company, now owned by Dow Chemicals, had paid a compensation of $470 million in 1989.

In a statement, Union Carbide claimed Monday’s judgment should not be interpreted as a ruling on the merits of the case and said the claims would be ultimately dismissed.

“The Second Circuit did not discuss the merits of the case or the merits of the trial judge’s ruling of dismissal and its decision should not be interpreted as a ruling on the merits,” the statement said.

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