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Bill Sent To Mo. Gov. Nixon Would Cap Lead Contamination Punitive Damages

The lead smelter in Herculaneum, Mo. run by Doe Run Resources.
The lead smelter in Herculaneum, Mo. run by Doe Run Resources.

One of two bills that would limit punitive damages in lead contamination cases is on its way to Governor Jay Nixon (D).

The provision is designed to protect Doe Run Resources Corporation from being inundated with lawsuits.  The company purchased old lead mining sites in St. Francois County in the 1990's, more than two decades after operations ceased.  Republican KevinEngler of Farmington represents that county in the Missouri House.  He says the company is making a good faith effort to remediate the affected sites.

"We've got to make a choice here," Engler said.  "Are we gonna have Doe Run to be around to continue to employ hundreds of people in the mining industry in a very poor district, or are we gonna let them have an unlimited amount of lawsuits that will line up, and where they just hide behind bankruptcy?"

The Doe Run language was added onto House Bill 650, in which the original intent was to name a Department of Natural Resources building after Robert E. Myers.  It would limit punitive damages in each lawsuit to no more than $2.5 million, but would also exempt Doe Run from any punitive damages if it's proven that they've made "good faith efforts to remediate" contaminated sites.  State RepresentativeJay Barnes (R, Jefferson City) spoke against the bill Wednesday night.  He says if Doe Run officials truly are the good guys, they shouldn't have to worry about being hit with multi-million dollar judgments.

"By coming before us and asking us to pass this bill, what the defendant in this case is doing is asking us to not allow those regular Missourians (on a jury) to make that decision based on actual facts that they get to hear," Barnes said.

Meanwhile, House and Senate negotiators are working on a second bill in which the $2.5 million cap may be adjusted to help insure that Governor Nixon doesn't veto it.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.