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Court allows class action against International Paper Co. over alleged 'black liquor' injuries, versus individual claims

NEW ORLEANS (News release) - A judge for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana has granted multiple plaintiffs' requests to include their personal injury lawsuits against the International Paper Company (IPC) in a class action lawsuit.

The three plaintiffs, Shirley Slocum, Derrick Sanders and Brent Jarrell, had all claimed in separate lawsuits that they allegedly suffered injuries as a result "of a discharge of black liquor at the Bogalusa Paper Mill." While the company stated that the incident posed "no risk to human health or the environment," the plaintiffs argued that the eruption of the substance led to multiple injuries and property damages, including but not limited to "itchy, burning, watery eyes and headaches with throat and upper-respiratory irritation."

Citing the plaintiffs' claim that determining the IPC's liability for the incident would be "most efficiently done on a class-wide basis," Judge Eldon E. Fallon's ruling on May 21 honored the request. The judge reasoned that doing so would "achieve economies of time, effort and expense, and promote uniformity of decision."

The International Paper Company, while recognizing that the issues at hand "are truly class-wide issues in this litigation," took issue with whether "general causation" would be tried on a class-wide basis. They proposed for the trial to be separated into two phases: liability and damages.

In his explanation, Fallon found that the question of whether the defendant's alleged negligence caused the incident "is a question common to all class members," and that "the proposed class representatives in this case do not appear to have interests that would be counter to those of other plaintiffs in this matter."

The court in its order assigned Shawn C. Reed and Jonathan C. Pederson as the lead class counsel for the new lawsuit.

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