Judge James Carr, in his 37-page ruling, granted one portion of Whirlpool’s motion to dismiss the case but will allow others to proceed.
CLYDE, Ohio — U.S. Judge James G. Carr of Toledo has dismissed most of the allegations that 58 families made in a lawsuit that attempts to blame Whirlpool Corp. for eastern Sandusky County’s unexplained cancer cluster.
But attorneys representing those families claimed the split decision will bolster their case against Whirlpool in the long run, because the judge opened the door for previously withheld company records to be entered into the public court record and used for discovery as the case progresses.
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“Now, we’re entitled to go forward with discovery about what Whirlpool knew in regard to what it was dumping and putting into the air,” said Alan Mortensen of Utah, the lead attorney for the families.
Co-counsel Chuck Boyk of Toledo agreed, saying it will allow attorneys access to internal documents about what Whirlpool knew about its past waste-disposal activities and when it became aware of them.
“The important thing is this allows for the families to gain discovery,” Mr. Boyk said. “The crux [of the ruling] is we’re going to get the information as a result.”
Whirlpool, though, succeeded in getting 15 of 17 counts brought against the appliance manufacturer dismissed by Judge Carr, including all allegations related to property damages, reckless conduct, fraud, trespassing, continuing nuisance, and strict liability/ultra-hazardous activity.
The company, in a prepared statement, said it is “pleased” by the decision, though it continues to “empathize with the families who have suffered illnesses or deaths of their loved ones.”
It asserted in its statement that no scientific evidence links Whirlpool to the health problems people have suffered.
The case includes, but is not limited to, families of childhood cancer victims.
Sandusky County Administrator Warren Brown and his wife, Wendy Brown, are part of the lawsuit. They have become national advocates for more childhood cancer research since losing their daughter, Alexa, to the disease. Both said Monday they were advised not to comment by their attorneys.
Mr. Boyk said he expects the case to take years to be resolved.
Judge Carr’s ruling allows the case to continue as a negligence lawsuit on the grounds of personal injury and wrongful death, with the possibility of some dismissed counts being restored if attorneys for the families amend their filings.
The plaintiff’s attorneys said they will be discussing that possibility.
The judge also denied the plaintiff’s attorneys’ request to initiate a class action on behalf of area property owners.
Whirlpool, which is Clyde’s largest employer, has manufactured appliances in that city since 1954. The company said it “will continue to vigorously defend against these baseless claims” on behalf of its 3,000 workers.
The lawsuit alleges toxic waste that Whirlpool put into the air and into the ground has been a likely pathway of exposure for many area residents who have fallen sick.
Plaintiffs allege the dumping included 14 sites where porcelain-coating residuals, paints, solvents, and other waste products were released, as well as contaminated sludge material inside the former Whirlpool Park in Green Springs, Ohio.
Whirlpool has maintained it was acting within state and federal regulatory guidelines at all times.
The 58 families fall into three groups: family members of children stricken by cancer, residents who live or used to live near Whirlpool Park, and residents who believe the cancer cluster has eroded their property values.
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.
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