No courtroom reunions were planned to mark the anniversary of one of the nation's longest trials. But jurors in the case, which involved less than a teaspoon of dioxin, look back a year ago yesterday and sigh with relief.
"I don't think I'll ever forget when it started and when it ended - especially when it ended," said Garry Cumer of East St. Louis, a 39-year-old telephone technician who served as jury foreman in the case known as Kemner vs. Monsanto."The guys at work tease me," he said. "They call me the lawyer."
After nearly four years of testimony and 38 days of deliberation, the jury decided on Oct. 22, 1987, that the St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. owed more than $16 million to 65 people in Sturgeon, Mo., because of a chemical spill in 1979 during a train derailment.
Barbara McCann, who was dismissed from the jury just 45 minutes before it got the case, said she remains bitter.
McCann, 50, was dismissed by St. Clair County Judge Richard Goldenhersh for a conflict of interest after being part of the jury for more than three years.
"I hold a grudge," said the mother of five, who works as a sales clerk. "And I still get teary-eyed when I think about it - and I will for years."
The panel awarded the plaintiffs $16.2 million as punitive damages, but gave 63 of them only $1 for compensatory damages. It awarded two plaintiffs $14,500 each to compensate for property damage.
The Missouri residents said they were hurt when the train derailed in Sturgeon and a 19,000-gallon load of wood preservative containing less than a teaspoon of dioxin spilled along the tracks.
Monsanto contended the amount of dioxin was too small to cause the fatigue, headaches, joint pains, high blood pressure, nausea and other ills claimed by the plaintiffs.
Dioxin, an unwanted byproduct created during the manufacture of some herbicides and pesticides, is known to cause brain, heart and genetic damage in laboratory animals. The health risk to humans remains subject to debate.
The case, which generated 113,000 pages of court records alone, is on appeal, said Monsanto attorney David Snively. Attorneys on both sides agreed it would take another year, possibly two, before the case is settled.
"If I had to do it again, I'd try to get out of it," McCann said. "I don't think anything should go that long."
Jerome Seigfried of Mexico, Mo., who represented the plaintiffs with attorney Rex Carr of Belleville, called his participation "a very interesting experience."
He said he had no regrets about taking the case, tried in Illinois because Monsanto manufactured the wood preservative at its Sauget plant. "It was part of the job," he said. "It's what I do."
But like the jurors, Snively breathed a sign of relief that the trial phase was over.
"It's just good to see your kids and family on a regular basis," he said.