Lawyers Say Firefighter Turnout Gear Lawsuits Require Separate Fact Sheets from AFFF and PFAS Water Exposure Claims

Plaintiff fact sheets for firefighter turnout gear lawsuits will be used to help the parties exchange information about each claim and guide the selection of representative cases for early bellwether trials.

Parties involved in the sprawling litigation over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) indicate that individuals pursuing firefighter turnout gear lawsuits, which allege that exposure to the chemicals in protective gear caused them to develop cancer and other illnesses, should complete separate plaintiff fact sheets from those used in AFFF lawsuits and PFAS water exposure lawsuits.

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been widely used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. However, there is now growing evidence that exposure to the chemicals may cause various cancers, liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and other injuries.

While most of the attention on the chemicals in recent years has focused on the use in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight fuel-based fires and has resulted in toxic exposures for firefighters and widespread water contamination in communities nationwide, PFAS are also found in a number of consumer products, including food containers, bottles and wrappers.

PFAS Exposure from Firefighter Turnout Gear

In addition, concerns have emerged about the cancer risk from PFAS in firefighting turnout gear; which is the protective, layered clothing worn by firefighters to protect them from heat, flames and chemical exposure.

In August 2022, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association issued a warning to firefighters, calling for them to reduce their PFAS exposure by limiting their use of turnout gear. The groups warned that firefighters will not be able to fully avoid the PFAS cancer risk until the chemicals are removed entirely from protective gear and AFFF foam, but they called for the development and widespread availability of such gear. In the meantime, the group indicated that firefighters should limit the use of turnout gear to only emergency situations where it is required, and then suggested fire fighters remove it as soon as possible.

Studies have directly linked exposure to the chemicals to an increased risk of testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis and other injuries, resulting in thousands of lawsuits being filed against companies that manufactured PFAS and fire safety equipment, including claims brought by firefighters directly exposed to the chemicals and individuals who drank contaminated water.

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Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Exposure to firefighting foam chemicals may result in an increased risk of cancer for firefighters, military and airport personnel.


Given common questions of fact and law presented in the PFAS exposure litigation, all complaints filed throughout the federal court system are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery, pretrial proceedings and a series of early bellwether trials as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

While firefighter turnout gear lawsuits represent a small aspect of the litigation facing chemical manufacturers, a growing number of claims involve allegations that firefighters developed cancer or other injuries following exposure to the toxic chemicals in their protective clothing.

Turnout Gear PFAS Lawsuit Fact Sheets

In a joint motion (PDF) filed on February 21, the parties called for the turnout gear lawsuit plaintiffs to file their own independent Plaintiff Fact Sheets, due to significant differences between their cases and those linked to exposure to the chemicals through water contamination or AFFF firefighting foam.

“The parties met and conferred per the Court’s instruction and believe that a turnout gear (TOG)-specific Plaintiff Fact Sheet (PFS) would be beneficial to this MDL,” the joint motion states. “Following several months of good faith discussions, the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, Defense Coordinating Committee, TOG Plaintiffs, and the TOG Defendants agree as to the form of a TOG PFS to be completed for all Member Actions brought by any TOG Plaintiff(s) against any TOG Defendant(s), including any Member Action(s) filed in or transferred to MDL 2873 after the date of this order.”

The fact sheets will gather case-specific information about the turnout gear injuries experienced by each plaintiff, including the specific gear used and the relevant background information needed to complete written discovery. The sheets will help guide the parties in selecting which turnout gear PFAS lawsuits are suitable to represent the larger body of claims in any bellwether trials in the future.

March 2024 PFAS Exposure Lawsuits Update

In May, Judge Gergel issued a case management order that directed the parties to prepare a list of 28 AFFF personal injury claims to serve as a bellwether pool, which will be prepared for a series of early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. These cases focus on plaintiffs who say they were exposed to PFAS through drinking water contamination, as opposed to direct exposure claims brought by firefighters.

The personal injury bellwether claims will include eight kidney cancer claims, eight testicular cancer claims, eight thyroid disease claims and four ulcerative colitis claims involving individuals exposed to contaminated water near Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base and the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster.

While the outcome of these early bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other claims, it is expected that the amount of any AFFF lawsuit payout awarded by juries may influence future firefighter cancer settlement negotiations to resolve the litigation.


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