No quick relief for family ‘suffering the most’ in PFAS crisis

Toxic Tap Water

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a Kent County courtroom on Friday, a hearing over Wolverine Worldwide PFAS contamination drew mostly lawyers in suits.

But among them sat a couple, Tom and Terry Hula, who are stuck in the middle of the dispute, wishing this would all end.

The argument before Kent County Circuit Judge George Quist was over the Hula’s home and property, located next to Wolverine’s old PFAS-filled House Street dump in Plainfield Township.

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“We’ve always referred to it as the Norman Rockwell piece of property,” Terry Hula said outside the courtroom. “You just don’t find a piece of property like that. We had Christmas trees growing on our property.”

But they said they know they can’t sell it.

In court, they listened as their attorney, Aaron Phelps, argue to fast-track their case against Wolverine and 3M.

“What happened is Miss Hula who’s here in the courtroom, she called me three weeks ago,” Phelps said. “She’s crying. She’s upset and what am I supposed to do?”

She was crying because months ago, her PFAS-tainted well failed, forcing her family to rely on a 1,550-gallon tank with water trucked in and paid for by Wolverine.

“I’m kind of at that breaking point where I don’t know how much longer I can do it,” Terry Hula said.

The Hula family is among more than 200 homeowners all seperately suing Wolverine and 3M over Wolverine’s dumping decades ago of PFAS-tainted material in Plainfield and Algoma townships. The likely carcinogen produced by 3M has contaminated their wells.

Their attorney asked a judge to allow the Hulas to become the test case, replacing another family in a strategy to move the cases along.

“There’s a lot of interests here,” Phelps told the judge. “But I think one of them certainly ought to be prioritizing people who are suffering the most and have the most harm and have the most need for immediate relief.

“What I’d really like to do is for Wolverine to buy their property so these people can move and get out,” he added.

Attorneys for Wolverine and 3M argued that making the switch would be unfair to them and delay the cases.

“We are where we are now, and the court’s and the parties’ carefully crafted schedule would have to be altered,” 3M attorney Daniel Ring argued.

They said what happened to the Hulas is so unique that it wouldn’t be a fair test case, and that combining the Hula case with another would lead to confusion.

“It’s a recipe for juror confusion, a recipe for prejudice to the defendants, and a recipe for error,” the 3M lawyer said. “These cases are complicated enough one at a time.”

Judge Quist sided with Wolverine and 3M, agreeing that switching test cases would “necessitate adjustments” to the cases’ schedule.

“Despite the inconvenience to the Hulas, they do have access to safe and reliable water,” Quist wrote in his opinion. “The Hulas’ situation is unique and not representative of the other plaintiffs.”

All sides have until Nov. 1 to get their cases ready to go.

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