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‘Wasn’t ready to die’: Jury set to deliberate in Real Water lawsuit

Updated October 4, 2023 - 11:30 am

A jury is set to begin deliberations on Wednesday in a multiplaintiff lawsuit against a local bottled water company tied to an outbreak of liver illnesses and at least one woman’s death.

The Las-Vegas based company Real Water was sued by multiple plaintiffs in May 2021, including by the family of a 69-year-old woman who died from liver failure, and the family of a 7-month-old boy who was hospitalized with severe liver failure. It was one of several complaints filed against the company, as it was subject to investigations by the Southern Nevada Health District and the Food and Drug Administration, which pulled the product from shelves.

The trial marks the first time one of the Real Water lawsuits has been brought to a jury, said attorney Will Kemp, who represents the majority of the plaintiffs.

Kemp told jurors during closing arguments that the plaintiffs all suffered from liver failure after drinking the bottled water, which was delivered to people’s homes and sold at Whole Foods. He said that when the company received complaints, Real Water responded by sending out free bottled water to concerned customers.

The lawsuit alleges that Real Water hired unqualified employees to manage the water testing, including a former strip club promoter hired as the “lead technician,” who never cleaned meters used to test for contaminants.

“There’s no one at the entire facility that knows how to make clean product,” Kemp said during the start of closing arguments on Monday. “What more damning finding could you have if you’re trying to sell a bottled water product?”

‘No doubt’ about responsibility

Kathleen Ryerson died on Nov. 11, 2020, after drinking the water for years, her sister, Judy Ryerson, previously told the Review-Journal. Kemp said Tuesday that Kathleen Ryerson was sedated but able to communicate during the weeks she was hospitalized before dying of acute liver failure.

“She wasn’t ready to die,” Kemp said.

Hanna Instruments and Milwaukee Instruments were also sued, with plaintiffs alleging that faulty testing meters produced by the companies contributed to toxic chemicals in the water.

Attorney Scott Rasmussen, who represents Hanna Instruments, and Rob Robbins, who represents Milwaukee Instruments, both argued that the meter production companies should not be subject to punitive damages in the case. Rasmussen said there was no evidence that the meter company he represents performed any actions out of malice.

Attorney Theodore Parker, who represents two plaintiffs in the case, argued that the meter companies and Real Water all contributed to the plaintiffs’ injuries, and should all be held liable.

Joel Odou, the attorney representing Real Water, said the company takes responsibility for their product and will pay damages for plaintiffs’ past and future medical costs, plus damages for pain and suffering.

“We’re responsible,” Odou said. “There is no doubt about that.”

He also argued there is not clear and convincing evidence that Real Water is liable for punitive damages in the case. He said the company did test the water, but failed to test for hydrazine, a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel, that Odou said is “not normally tested for” by water companies.

The jury is set to begin deliberations Wednesday morning to determine if the defendants are liable for punitive damages.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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