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Some of lawsuit to go forward

Tom Jackson • Feb 11, 2014 at 2:20 PM

A federal judge in Toledo has allowed the Clyde area cancer cluster lawsuit against Whirlpool to move forward toward a possible trial.

Warren and Wendy Brown, the parents of Alexa, who died from cancer, and other plaintiffs filed suit against the appliance company last year.

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The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Carr dismissed 15 of the 17 complaints brought in the suit, but allowed two to go forward. One claim alleges Whirlpool failed in its duty to safely dispose of waste from its manufacturing plant. The other claim says the company’s failure to do its duty caused the deaths of five children from cancer and sickened others.

Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the people bringing the lawsuit, a plausible claim has been made that Whirlpool polluted the air and soil in Clyde and the surrounding area for at least 50 years, Carr wrote in his decision.

Attorneys for the Browns and the other plaintiffs called the ruling a victory, saying it would allow the lawsuit to move forward and allow them to demand more information from Whirlpool. Whirlpool officials, however, emphasized the judge tossed out most of the lawsuit and said they’ll vigorously fight the portion that remains.

“This is a huge decision that will for the first time require Whirlpool to reveal the information that they have been reluctant to disclose,” said Toledo attorney Chuck Boyk, who represents the Browns and the other plaintiffs. “It is one small step in the search for the truth, and we look forward to examining the information that Whirlpool will have to release”

Boyk said he expects to be able to force Whirlpool to turn over documents and make its employees available for questioning.

“The most important part of the decision not to dismiss is the fact that it provides the Clyde Cancer Cluster victims and their families the opportunity to properly fight the long battle they have been waiting to fight,” said Utah attorney Alan Mortensen, who also represents the plaintiffs.

A spokeswoman for Whirlpool, Kristine Vernier, pointed out that the judge threw out many of the claims against Whirlpool.

“We are pleased by the court’s decision to dismiss 15 of the 17 counts in the plaintiffs’ complaint, including all allegations related to property damages, reckless conduct, fraud, trespass, continuing nuisance, strict liability and punitive damages. The court also denied the plaintiff attorneys’ request to initiate a class action on behalf of property owners in the area” Vernier said.

“With regard to the remaining two claims, the court recognized that several government agencies have published reports that ‘call into question a fair number of plaintiffs’ allegations,’ but indicated the court could not resolve all facts at this early stage in the litigation. On behalf of our 3,000 employees in the Clyde area, Whirlpool will continue to vigorously defend against these baseless claims by the plaintiff attorneys” she said.

Whirlpool empathizes with the families that have suffered sickness and death, but there’s no scientific evidence that the company is to blame, Vernier said.

Boyk and Mortensen said they’ll look at whether they can restore part of the suit the judge tossed out by amending their lawsuit or appealing the judge’s ruling.

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