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Union Carbide/Dow lawsuit (re Bhopal)

Status: OPEN

Incident date
Feb. 18, 2014
Company: Dow Chemical
Company Sector: Chemical: General
Company Location: United States of America
Company: Union Carbide (part of Dow)
Company Sector: Chemical: General

In December 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked over forty tons of the poisonous gas methyl isocyanate into the community surrounding the plant.  Indian officials estimate that the gas leak left nearly 3000 people dead and 50,000 people permanently disabled and that 15,000 people died subsequently from exposure to the poisonous gas.  (Unofficial estimates range up to 7000-8000 initial deaths, and 15,000-20,000 subsequent deaths.)  Some of the injured people of Bhopal attempted to litigate claims against Union Carbide (part of Dow Chemical since 2001) in the US; these US lawsuits were dismissed in 1986 in favour of litigating the claims through the Indian legal system.  In 1989 the Indian Supreme Court approved a settlement of the civil claims against Union Carbide for $470 million.  Until recently approximately $330 million of the settlement amount had yet to be disbursed to the Bhopal victims and their survivors.  In July of 2004, the Indian Supreme Court directed that the balance of the settlement fund be disbursed among all of the Bhopal claimants.  In 1999, a group of victims of the Bhopal disaster filed suit against Union Carbide in US federal court seeking compensation for the 1984 incident as well as for the alleged ongoing environmental contamination at and around the Bhopal plant site.  After a number of appeals, the plaintiffs’ US claims for compensation for injuries directly related to the 1984 incident were dismissed because the court found that these claims were barred by the 1989 Union Carbide settlement in India.  However, the court allowed claims to go forward regarding property damage due to the environmental contamination at the Bhopal plant site and surrounding areas.  In June 2012 the district court dismissed the case against Union Caribide.  The plaintiffs appealed, and the appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling in June 2013.

In addition to the US litigation, a criminal lawsuit against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson, its former CEO, has been ongoing in the Indian legal system since 1989.  In June 2010 a court in India handed down a verdict in the case.  It found Union Carbide India Ltd. and seven executives of the company guilty of criminal negligence.  The company was required to pay a fine of 500,000 rupees ($10,870) and the individuals were each sentenced to two years in prison and fined 100,000 rupees ($2175) a piece.  On 2 August 2010, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking a harsher punishment for the accused in this case.  This petition sought to reinstate charges of culpable homicide against the accused; a September 1996 order had reduced the charges from culpable homicide to criminal negligence.  In May 2011, the Supreme Court rejected this petition and declined to re-open the case to reinstate the harsher charges.

- "Bhopal gas tragedy: US court rejects case against Union Carbide", Business Standard, 1 Jul 2013
- "Union Carbide wins dismissal of suit over Bhopal plant", Patricia Hurtado & Bob Van Voris, Bloomberg Businessweek, 28 Jun 2012 
- "India's Supreme Court rejects harsher Bhopal charges", BBC News, 11 May 2011
- "CBI files curative petition in Bhopal gas tragedy case", J. Venkatesan, Hindu, 3 Aug 2010
- "Indian Court Convicts 7 in Bhopal Gas Disaster", Prakash Hatvalne, AP, 8 Jun 2010
- “Indian Judge Orders Dow to Explain Shielding of Subsidiary in Bhopal Criminal Case”, Boston Common Asset Management [socially responsible investment firm], 12 Jan 2005

- Amnesty International: [PDF] “Clouds of Injustice: Bhopal Disaster 20 Years On”, 29 Nov 2004
- “Bhopal Gas Tragedy Lives On, 20 Years Later”, Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, 04 May 2004
- Union Carbide: Union Carbide Bhopal Information Center
- Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR): Bhopal Amicus, Synopsis [CCR filed amicus brief on behalf of plaintiffs in the US case]
- Earthrights International: Bano v. Union Carbide [synopsis of US lawsuit filed in 1999; includes links to certain court decisions]
- International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal: Document Library [contains links to certain US and Indian legal documents]

- [PDF] State of Madhya Pradesh through CBI vs. Warren Anderson, et al. - Judgment, Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Bhopal, 7 June 2010