The New Town Meeting
IN THE COURSE of the Vietnam War, U.S. forces sprayed millions of tons of Agent Orange to destroy enemy cover. The herbicide contained minute traces of dioxin, a potent poison. In the years after the war, veterans and their families searched for an explanation of the various physiological and psychological ailments that plagued them. They eventually fixed on Agent Orange as the culprit. On January 8, 1979, they sued seven chemical companies and the U.S. government.
Federal Judge Jack Weinstein consolidated more than 600 separate suits into one of the largest class actions ever formed in the history of personal injury litigation. He accredited a committee of plaintiffs' lawyers to represent 2.4 million people, a population the size of Arkansas, comprising U.S. veterans, their wives, their children born and unborn, Australian and New Zealander veterans, and a few civilians. On May 7, 1984, only hours before the trial was to begin--and nine years to the day after a helicopter evacuated the last American troops from Saigon--the vets settled their claims against seven chemical company defendants for $180 million.