‘Such a relief’: Susan Kamuda wins $363 million judgment against Sterigenics, which exposed her to cancer-causing chemicals

CHICAGO (CBS) — A big verdict has been ordered against a suburban company the CBS 2 Investigators exposed years ago.

On Monday, a Cook County jury ordered Sterigencis to pay a woman $363 million for exposing her to cancer causing chemicals.

Susan Kamuda sued Sterigenics, claiming the company knowingly emitted the toxic gas ethylene oxide from its facility in Willowbrook and did nothing to protect the public.

Kamuda developed breast cancer. Her son was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. Kamuda shared what she felt when she heard the verdict.

“Best three words I’ve ever heard, honestly,” Kamuda said. “Just such a relief. What came after that really didn’t matter.”

Sterigencis maintained there is no proof Kamuda’s cancer was linked to their emissions. The company plans to appeal the verdict.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini has spent years digging into the company, uncovering documents and speaking with whistleblowers, what kind of impact does this first trial and verdict have on other cancer cases yet to go to trial.

This mega verdict is good for the next cases, because the company was found to have exercised willful and wanton conduct. There are still over 700 plus litigants lined up and waiting for their day in court.

There are people and families with illnesses or death cases like Matt Haller‘s. Haller died from stomach cancer. There is also Heather Schumacher who battled Hodkins Lymphoma. Those cases have yet to be heard.  

On Monday, Sue Kamuda was the first of all plaintiffs to go to trial. She is a breast cancer survivor, who lived near the factory for three decades. A  jury not only believed her cancer was connected to the ethylene oxide gas emitted from the plant, but also decided the company should be punished for all of its toxic emissions.

Most of this massive $363 million verdict was for punitive damages. A form of punishment against the company for its role here.

CBS2 Investigators broke the stories on how former workers at the plant became whistleblowers, saying how the company spewed more of this chemical into the air than ever reported to the EPA.

Sterigenics issued a statement saying they would appeal the verdict. After the Kamuda verdict, the long and tedious process of the legal appeal fight begins. But in the meantime more cases a going to trial in the next few months like Heather Schumacher’s case. You can expect the same kind of trial, and much of same evidence against Sterigenics will be laid out.  Only the facts about the victims and their specific kinds of cancers will change.

Each time, a jury will have to decide on fault and punitive damages and if this high verdict trend continues it could get to a point possibly where one giant superfund is created to handle all these cases. 

On Monday, a jury in the case against Sterigenics and its role in a Willowbrook woman’s cancer found the company liable and award her $363 million.   

Kamuda testified under oath last week that she would have moved out of Willowbrook if she’d known about the dangerous ethylene oxide released by the Sterigenics plant. She fought back tears while on the stand, talking about being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer more than two decades after moving to her home in Willowbrook.

She also described her shock after being told the plant near her home had been emitting a known toxin that whole time. Kamuda told the Daley Center courtroom jury that moving into her dream home with her husband and three children in Willowbrook in 1985 was “probably the happiest day” of her life.

But she didn’t know that same year, Sterigenics, moved in as well, just a third of a mile from her home.

The Willowbrook plant used EO from 1985 until it was shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in 2019.