MONTGOMERY, ALA. – The United States Supreme Court on Friday rejected all further appeals of punitive damages in a nearly 4-year-old pollution verdict of more than $20.7 million against a Phenix City plant.
In 2004 a federal jury ruled in favor of the city of Columbus, Ga., local boat dealer John Tharpe and South Columbus resident Owen Ditchfield in their suit against the Continental Carbon plant.
The jury awarded $3.2 million for compensation and court costs and $17.5 million in punitive damages. The company paid the compensation costs last June but has continued appealing the punitive damages.
Last year the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta affirmed the decision that Continental Carbon and its parent company, China Synthetic Rubber Corp., dumped carbon black into the air.
Lawyers in the case said the reinforcing and pigmenting agent – used in tires, inks, cables and coatings – drifted across the Chattahoochee River, causing damage to the Columbus Civic Center, recreational facilities, a boating sales company and a nearby home.
Montgomery attorney Jere Beasley, whose firm represented plantiffs in the case, said the court’s ruling sends a message that “simply compensating our clients for their out-of-pocket losses wasn’t enough; these two corporations needed to pay nine times that amount in punitive damages to deter this sort of misconduct in the future.”
Continental Carbon president Kim K. T. Pan released a statement Friday saying leaders at the Houston-based company were “disappointed” that their appeal would not be heard by the Supreme Court.
“As a result of this ruling, Continental Carbon Company will pay the $17.5 million punitive damage judgment to the four plaintiffs in accordance with the jury award rendered in August 2004,” he said.