The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated parts of a federal lawsuit against Union Carbide and its former CEO, Warren Anderson, for toxic pollution from its plant in Bhopal, India.
The plaintiffs in Bano v. Union Carbide Corp. are victims of the 1984 toxic gas disaster, in which tons of lethal gas from a Union Carbide plant killed over 5,000 people immediately and thousands more in the years to follow. They alleged that Union Carbide violated international law, including human rights law, environmental law, and criminal law, in its egregious neglect of safety and disregard for the lives and health of the residents of Bhopal. The plaintiffs also suffer from ongoing pollution and contamination at the Bhopal plant.
The case had been dismissed by the trial court last year based on several legal grounds, without considering whether Union Carbide actually violated international law. The appeals court reinstated the claims for the toxic pollution and environmental contamination unrelated to the 1984 disaster. Those claims will now be considered by the trial court.
The appeals court did dismiss the claims arising out of the 1984 disaster, however, because it found that they had been settled by a 1989 ruling of the Indian Supreme Court. In that settlement, the Indian Supreme Court had also allowed criminal prosecutions against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson to proceed. Despite the fact that neither Anderson nor Union Carbide ever appeared to defend themselves, fleeing the jurisdiction of the Indian courts, the appeals court held that the settlement was still valid, and that no further lawsuits could be brought.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, including co-counsel EarthRights International, are disappointed that the court allowed Union Carbide to take refuge in the Indian Supreme Court’s settlement while fleeing criminal prosecutions in India. Nonetheless, this ruling does hold out the possibility that Union Carbide will be held accountable for the serious pollution from its Bhopal plant since the 1984 disaster.