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In re In re Hanford Nuclear Reservation Litig.

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20211
Nos. Nos. 05-35648 et al., (9th Cir., 08/14/2007)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part lower court rulings in an action initially brought by over 2,000 residents against the operators of the Hanford Nuclear Weapons Reservation in southeastern Washington claiming that emissions from the facility caused various cancers and other life-threatening diseases. The site was a plutonium-production facility that helped make the atomic bomb that dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in World War II. After almost two decades of litigation, the parties agreed to a bellwether trial. That trial, which focused on six plaintiffs, is the subject of this appeal. The court affirmed the lower court's major rulings. Complete immunity under the common law government contractor defense was inapplicable to the operator as a matter of law, and none of the operators' contentions were sufficient to relieve them of strict liability for the injuries they caused. The district court also properly instructed the jury that, under Washington law, to impose liability the jury must find that the facility was the "but for" cause of the residents' diseases and not just a contributing cause under the more lenient "substantial factor" test. The district court also properly dismissed any medical monitoring claims as not cognizable under the federal law at issue. As for the individual plaintiffs, the court affirmed judgment in favor of one plaintiff and against a second plaintiff, reversed judgment in favor of a third plaintiff on statute of limitations grounds, and reversed judgments against the three remaining plaintiffs on evidentiary grounds.

[Prior decisions in this litigation can be found at 32 ELR 20747, 22 ELR 20703 and 25 ELR 21272.]