Lawyers are the $4 million winners in chrome sludge case

8 May 2012

A Buchanan County circuit judge entered a final ruling May 7 on dispersal of $10 million to a group of north west Missouri farmers and landowners who claimed that fertilizer allegedly containing a cancer-causing chemical ruined their land.

The lawsuit began as a 10-page complaint filed by 29 area property owners in December 2009. The complaint alleged hexavalent chromium was in contaminated fertilizer dispersed by Prime Tanning Co. All defendants denied the claims, stating they were without information or knowledge sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations.

Samples were ruled to contain levels not hazardous to health. The plaintiffs argued that the agencies should have used different screening levels and criteria for the evaluation.

Judge Randall Jackson ruled in a nine-page document, that the $10 million settlement made only against Burns & McDonnell Engineering was ‘fair, adequate and reasonable.’

The Kansas City law firm of Wagstaff and Cartmell received a 40% contingency fee of $4 million for its 10,860 hours of work, which occurred over three years. The law firm must pay any other attorneys who assisted in the case. The court also granted Wagstaff and Cartmell $799,000 for expenses associated with the case.

The remaining 26 original defendants who started the civil case will receive $20,000 each as an incentive award. Everyone in the class-action lawsuit will be paid between $325 and $350 per damaged acre that they own. The class-action lawsuit ultimately involved claims for some 13,400 acres.

The remaining defendant in the case, Burns & McDonnell Engineering, did not admit fault and has denied wrongdoing. The company is transferring the $10 million to a trust account and a claims administrator will pay qualified claims.

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