Woburn Cancer Case Study

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From 1966 to 1986, more than a dozen cases of childhood leukemia hit the small town of Woburn, Massachusetts. In the late 1970s, civil engineers discovered that local wells G and H were contaminated with several suspected carcinogens, including trichloroethylene (TCE). The wells were subsequently shut down. The town had a long history of industrial activity, including a number of tanneries. Two major corporations, W.R. Grace Co. and Beatrice Foods, owned factories and plants in the area. A group of the parents of children who had developed leukemia (some survived, though many died) sought legal advice. They consulted Joe Mulligan, a Boston lawyer, and signed his firm to a contingency contract to pursue a suit against anyone responsible for…show more content…
In early 1981, the Center for Disease Control issued a report on the Woburn cancer cluster that showed the cancer rate was at least seven times higher than normal, but did not definitively connect the well contamination with the leukemia cases. (Chpt. 1-2) Jan Schlictmann was a young lawyer with Joe Mulligan’s law firm, Reed & Mulligan, early in the Woburn case. He had bounced around a number of jobs before discovering an interest in the law and attending law school. He attempted to start his own firm, but ended up working at Reed & Mulligan in Boston only a few years later. The Woburn case had been neglected at the firm, and Schlictmann began working on it. He worked closely with Kevin Conway at the firm, who warned him that the Woburn case was “a black hole.” As the statute of limitations on the case approached, Schlictmann teamed up with a non-profit firm in Washington, DC, that was looking for an environmental case to pursue. He turned the case over to the firm but stayed on as local counsel. They filed a complaint eight…show more content…
The motion charged Schlictmann with filing a frivolous and unfounded lawsuit, and with other suspect ethical behavior such as soliciting clients. The judge, Walter Jay Skinner, held a hearing on the motion. Schlictmann refused to submit to cross-examination by Cheeseman on the theory that doing so would violate his obligations to his clients. The hearing was conducted by Judge Skinner based on submitted questions by Cheeseman, and the Rule 11 motion was denied. (Chpt. 4) After successfully negotiating a large settlement in a different case, and seeing the credit and most of the proceeds go to a senior partner who had little to do with the case, Schlictmann decided to leave Reed & Mulligan and start his own firm. Kevin Conway went with him, and requested that Schlictmann get rid of the Woburn case, but Schlictmann refused. In the new firm’s first major case, Schlictmann won a then-state-record $4.7 million verdict in a personal injury case. He turned his attention to the Woburn case, which had lain dormant for over a year. A Harvard study had come out showing that people exposed to wells G and H had suffered a number of adverse health effects, and the study concluded that there was a strong possibility the contamination was linked to the leukemia cases. William Cheeseman filed a motion for

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