Terminix may settle pesticide poisoning case

Posted at 4:33 PM, Jul 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-31 16:33:59-04

Terminix may be close to paying a Delaware family $87 million to keep them from suing over a horrifying poisoning while they were vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A quarterly earnings report filed with the SEC released this week states that there is a tentative settlement in the works after the family of four was gravely injured.

Steve Esmond, his wife Teresa Devine and their two teenage sons were staying at a resort villa on St. John when a Terminix employee used methyl bromide to fumigate a villa adjacent to their vacation home. The odorless gas was illegally used, and the family breathed the deadly gas for several hours.

If accepted, this settlement would resolve one of two high-profile Terminix poisoning cases. About six months after the Edmonds were poisoned, a family in Florida fell ill following a botched fumigation of their home. Their young son has also suffered long-term neurological effects.

The contractor in that case has pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and Terminix is fighting a civil suit filed by the family. The SEC filing says that case is scheduled for trial in September, and the DOJ also continues to investigate.

The Esmond family’s lawyers and Terminix have kept quiet since they entered into negotiations in their case last fall, mediated by Ken Feinberg, who negotiated settlements for the victims of the September 11 attacks. The report sheds light on a potential agreement, but says there is no timeframe on when it will be finalized.

Since the incident, the Esmond family has been fighting a long and difficult recovery.

Last year, before they entered confidential settlement talks, family attorney James Maron told CNN that the teen boys struggled to eat, walk and sit on their own. Because of the damage was caused by a nerve agent, the boys and their father suffered severe tremors and couldn’t speak or “turn the pages of a book,” Maron said last year.

“Neurologically, it’s like being in a torture chamber,” he said.

Methyl bromide is incredibly toxic to humans, according to experts, and was banned from residential use in 2005. But following the incident with the Esmond family, the local Department of Planning and Natural Resources told CNN that several pest control companies on the islands were found in possession of canisters of methyl bromide, and that methyl bromide had been used at least 12 times, many of them in residential settings.

Even a complex where the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands lived was sprayed with methyl bromide without his knowledge, officials said. The EPA and DOJ are still investigating.

Following a Department of Justice investigation, Terminix had agreed to pay $10 million in fines back in March, but a federal judge on St. Thomas rejected the agreement and sent attorneys back to the negotiating table. The SEC report suggests the range of those fines could be reduced in a new agreement.