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Union Carbide/Dow lawsuit (re Bhopal)

In 1999, a group of victims of the Bhopal disaster, a forty ton poisonous gas spill in India, filed suit against Union Carbide in US federal court seeking compensation for the incident and for the alleged ongoing environmental contamination. The US Court rejected the case on a juridictional basis. In India, the court found Union Carbide India Ltd. and seven executives of the company guilty of criminal negligence. 


C русской версией описания этого дела можно ознакомиться здесь.

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 2010, the victims and the government filed a "curative petition" with the Supreme Court of India asking to re-open the settlement, due to evidence of the very significantly greater number of victims and severity of harms than was contemplated at the time of the original settlement.

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 Carbide.  The plaintiffs appealed, and the appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling in June 2013. On 30 July 2014, the US District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that Union carbide could not be sued for the on-going contamination from the plant, despite the plaintiffs' lawyers providing evidence that an Union Carbide employee managed its construction.  The plaintiffs appealed in November 2014, and claim that they have provided new evidence that show Union Carbide's involvement.  On 24 May 2016, a US court ruled that a lawsuit against Union Carbide filed by local communities may not proceed despite strong evidence the company's chemical plant continues to cause water pollution in Bhopal, India.  In July 2016, the victims asked the court to reconsider its 24 May decision.  In August 2016, the US court of appeals rejected their appeal for a rehearing, allowing stand the lower court decision ruling that UCC was not liable to stand.

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 victims call for immediate steps to check groundwater contamination", International Business Times, 14 June 2018
- "U.S. court rules in favour of Union Carbide", Hindu, 31 Jul 2014
- "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, Seattle Times, 7 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

- Union Carbide: Union Carbide Bhopal Information Center

- EarthRights International: "Despite evidence that Union Carbide directly oversaw construction of its notorious plant in Bhopal, India, U.S. court denies justice to victims of pollution" 1 Aug 2014
- 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
- 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

- [PDF] Jagarnath Sahu v. Union Carbide Corporation, US District Court Southern District of New York, 30 Jun 2014

Company Responses

Dow Chemical

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