Utah property owners renew court battle over herbicide
Courts • Attorney brands earlier DuPont settlement “inadequate” for damage.
Published: May 10, 2013 06:50AM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:31PM

Dozens of property owners in Park City and Heber have snubbed a settlement over a widely used weed killer that has felled a forest of their trees and shrubs.

The residents, in a lawsuit filed May 3 on their behalf by their lawn-care company, Greenleaf Enterprises, seek better compensation from Delaware-based DuPont Co.’s over its herbicide, Imprelis, which they say ruined or stunted nearly 1,000 trees and bushes. The suit was filed in 3rd District Court in Summit County and seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages for a chemical the company promoted as environmentally friendly, “tough on weeds [yet] easy on the environment.”

The law firm Siegfried & Jensen, which is representing the 48 property owners, said Greenleaf Enterprises used the weed killer as part of a lawn-care service, and soon after began seeing customers’ trees, including ornamental blue spruce, Norwegian spruce and white pine, gnarling and yellowing.

“In its relatively short time on the market,” said the suit, “DuPont’s Imprelis has proven to be a frighteningly effective tree killer.”

The lawsuit said Imprelis is four times more powerful than Agent Orange and described by professionals as the lawn-care industry’s “Hurricane Katrina.” And it pointed to studies in several states that have reported devastating impacts.

Although DuPont countered that the herbicide had been misapplied, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides and herbicides nationally, forced DuPont to pull Imprelis off the market in August 2011.

That summer, Greenleaf filed suit on behalf of its customers. A news release said: “A single gallon of Imprelis can be used to treat dozens of acres of turf; Greenleaf Enterprises allege that they only purchased and used only two gallons of the product, yet has documented damage in over 250 of its customers’ trees.”

In February, a federal judge in Philadelphia gave preliminary approval to a class-action settlement of damage claims. The company reportedly set aside $750 million and could spend up to $900 million to remove the damaged trees and replace them.

The Park City property owners have rejected that settlement because their actual costs are, in some cases, 10 times higher than DuPont is offering, said attorney Mitch Jensen.

“In just about every respect, the offer to compensate for the damage that has been done is inadequate,” said Jensen.

He estimated that more Utahns would file suit in what is part of a mass tort of national scale.

DuPont spokesman Gregg Schmidt declined to comment on the Utah suit, but he said the company has “a very fair claims process” regarding Imprelis.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah