- A jury has awarded $363 million to a woman who developed breast cancer after living close to a medical device sterilization facility run by Sterigenics.
- The jury decided that Sterigenics should pay $220 million, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, as part of a larger award that involves the device sterilizer’s parent company and exceeds the amount requested by the plaintiff’s lawyers.
- Sterigenics closed the Willowbrook, Illinois, facility at the center of the case in 2019 but has more than 760 lawsuits pending against it in the local court for toxic emissions previously emitted by the plant.
In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency detected high concentrations of ethylene oxide (EtO), a disinfectant used to sterilize medical devices, in the air near to the Willowbrook facility. The discovery led the State of Illinois to issue a seal order that closed the plant the following year. Sterigenics discontinued operations at the site within months of the order.
Evidence the facility was releasing EtO, a carcinogen, into the air led to a wave of lawsuits by people who developed cancer after living near the site. The first of those lawsuits has now resulted in the award of $363 million to a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after living around one-third of a mile from the Willowbrook plant since 1985.
The EPA lists breast cancer as a risk of long-term exposure to EtO.
Sterigenics defended its record following the verdict.
“We will continue to vigorously defend against allegations about our ethylene oxide operations and emissions,” the company spokesperson told the Sun-Times. “As we have consistently done throughout our history, we will continue to operate in compliance with applicable rules and regulations to ensure the safety of our employees, the communities in which we operate and patients around the world.”
A jury awarded 70-year-old Sue Kamuda $38 million in compensatory damages and $325 million in punitive damages against the company.
The award exceeded the $346 million Kamuda’s lawyers sought against Sterigenics, its parent company, Sotera Health, and its corporate predecessor Griffith Foods. The jury ordered Sterigenics to pay $220 million; Sotera, $100 million; and Griffith, $5 million.
The lawsuits could become even more expensive if the award is indicative of the sums juries will grant plaintiffs in other cases.
Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, the law firm that represented Kamuda, said more than 760 lawsuits are pending against Sterigenics over toxic emissions in Cook County Circuit Court. The backlog of cases includes a suit filed by the first plaintiff’s son, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2021.