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Family optimistic for answers

Tom Jackson • Feb 12, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Warren Brown says he and his family are pleased a federal judge will allow the search for answers to continue in the Clyde-area cancer cluster case.

Brown and his wife, Wendy, are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit brought last year by families affected by a spike in cancer cases among young people. On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge James Carr dismissed much of the lawsuit, but left intact key provisions contending Whirlpool polluted the air and soil and the pollution contributed to sickening children who developed cancer.

The Browns’ daughter, Alexa, 11, died of cancer in 2009. Brown is the Sandusky County administrator and has often served as a kind of informal spokesman for families caught up in the cancer cluster.

He said he’s pleased the ruling apparently clears the way for the lawsuit to proceed, allowing attorneys who represent the families to question Whirlpool officials and obtain Whirlpool documents.

“I have to say that with the caveat that this is a very small step in a very long and arduous journey,” Brown said.

Indeed, the court case is likely to take quite a long time to resolve, said Chuck Boyk, a Toledo attorney who is one of the attorneys representing Brown and other plaintiffs in the case.

Boyk said Tuesday that if the case proceeds along normal lines, Carr will schedule a pretrial conference soon and ask attorneys how they want to proceed.

It’s likely deadlines will be set for attorneys who brought the lawsuit to request documents and to schedule depositions, testimony under oath that would be taken from Whirlpool officials in lawyers’ offices or other locations.

“The families would like the opportunity to question the people with knowledge under oath and to review the documents” Boyk said.

It’s impossible to know what documents will become available, Boyk said.

“There could be hundreds of thousands of pages of documents we need to look at. Until we ask for it, we don’t know what they are going to produce. Are they going to have a warehouse full of documents, or are they going to tell us that nothing exists?” Boyk said.

Whirlpool’s spokesman, Kristine Vernier, did not respond to a request to make a Whirlpool official available for this story.

Monday night, however, Vernier issued a statement noting the judge dismissed most of the suit. She vowed the company would vigorously fight what remains.

Vernier said there’s no evidence linking Whirlpool’s Clyde operations with the local cancer cases.

“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.

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