A brief history of the Agent Orange Class Action Lawsuit (mdl-381)

July 20, 1978

Paul Reutershan, founder and Chairman of Vietnam Veterans Agent Orange Victims, Inc. files a $10 million lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock, and Hercules chemical companies.

December 14, 1978

Paul Reutershan dies of cancer.

January 5, 1979

Victor J. Yannacone, Jr., at the request of VVAOV, Inc. President Frank McCarthy, amends Paul’s suit into the class action suit known as MDL-381 to cover all those who have been damaged as a result of the veteran’s exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin, including wives, children and parents. From this point on, the suit asks for the creation of a Public Trust Fund out of chemical company profits. The suit also seeks to stop the chemical companies from manufacturing, selling, or spraying Agent Orange/Dioxin in the United States.

April 1979

Victor Yannacone creates Yannacone and Yannacone Associates (the Consortium), which is comprised of eleven law firms who agree to control and fund the litigation on behalf of veterans and their families.

November 20, 1979

Judge Pratt rules that the suit should be tried under the rules governing Federal Common Law (uniform rules covering all claimants as a method for trial).

November 24, 1980

Second Circuit Court of Appeals reverses Judge Pratt’s rule governing Federal Common Law, which forces the judge to try the cases in Federal Court but under the rules of each State. This means that Vietnam veterans in 20 States could not even file suit (are eliminated) due to the fact that the statute of limitations has expired in those States. Judge Feinburg dissents their decision stating it is anomalous that Federal Common Law may apply to prisoners but not to veterans.

March 1981

Supreme Court agrees with Second Circuit in reversing Judge Pratt’s decision on Common Law, stating that there was no Federal interest in the case. All Vietnam veterans and their families in 20 States were eliminated from the suit.

September 1983

Judge Pratt is promoted to Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the litigation is given to Chief Judge Jack B. Weinstein.

October 1983

The Consortium of attorneys for the veterans declares inability to fund the litigation further and appeals to Judge Weinstein to appoint a Plaintiff’s Management Committee (PMC). Victor Yannacone loses all decision-making powers and three new law firms take over control with PMC.

May 7, 1984

PMC agrees to settle the case with all chemical company attorneys for $180 million. Judge Weinstein approves the settlement.

August 1984

Judge Weinstein begins public hearings in five cities to hear testimony on the fairness and accuracy of the settlement. The Judge heard testimony from over 400 veterans.

May, 1985

Judge Weinstein releases decision on distribution of $180 million, creating the Agent Orange Veteran Payment Program for disability compensation and death benefits.

November 1989

Monies begin to be distributed. Over a nine-year period, the assets retained in the United States were invested, and accumulated earnings of approximately $150 million, making the total funds for distribution approximately $330 million. As of September 24, 1997, the final report was made by the Special Master to the U.S. District Court. There were some outstanding distributions to be made, and we have figured those in to the breakdown, which follows:

An estimated total of approximately $270 million was distributed to class members as either cash payments or provision of grants for services. Of that total amount, approximately $195.6 million was cash compensation to approximately 52,000 class members, and approximately $73 million as grants that provided services for approximately 239,000 class members.

Additional funds were distributed to veterans in Australia (over $7 million) and New Zealand (nearly $1 million).

It is important to note that all administrative costs and attorney’s fees (approximately $48.8 million) came from the interest and not from the settlement itself.

Related Links:

Agent Orange Index

Agent Orange Fact Sheet

Diseases Linked To Agent Orange Exposure


National Veterans Services Fund, Inc. Agent Orange Information


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