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A Civil Action Chapter Summary Environmental Law

Orphans and Dogs


Schlichtmann was busy so he put Woburn on the back burner. Barry Reed had a big case
and Schlichtmann handled it, assisted by Conway and a young lawyer named Bill Crowley.
Schlichtmann invented a new way of doing business, of negotiating with the other party until
both sides came to a settlement. It was lucrative and less risky than going on trial, and
Schlichtmann was able to negotiate a good amount, a portion of which went to Barry Reed.
Soon afterward Schlichtmann left Reed & Mulligan and set up his own firm, Schlichtmann,
Conway & Crowley. They spared no expense setting up the office and had grandiose plans.
They would only take on ten new cases a year, theyd take cases that promised big rewards, and
Conway would be the one sifting through the cases. Some claims that arrived at the office were
obviously frivolous, these Conway termed dogs. Orphans were cases that were passed on
from law firm to another; these had some merit but by some reason or another, were rejected.
One such case that turned out to their advantage was the Carney case. This case was about a
young man who had a car accident and was hospitalized. After 622 days in various hospitals he
was in a wheelchair, unable to walk since an infection had eroded his bones.
Schlichtmann spent two hundred thousand dollars to find out what happened. He invited
the defense lawyers and insurance agents to the negotiation table, but refused their offer of $1M
settlement. This case was going to trial. Schlichtmann was able to get $4.7M for Paul Carney. It
was the biggest monetary award in Boston and it gave him confidence and money, both of which
enabled him to take on Woburn.
By this time, two professors (one was statistician Marvin Zelen) at the Harvard School of
Public Health have finished their study of leukemia in Woburn. Their study was able to
determine that there was a positive link to the well water and the high rate of childhood
leukemia. This led to Cheeseman preparing a motion for summary judgment that asked Judge
Skinner to dismiss the Woburn case on the grounds that there is no evidence saying that TCE
caused leukemia. He was able to get two doctors from the Harvard Medical School to execute
affidavits that there are no hard and fast facts that TCE caused leukemia. Schlichtmanns
strategy was to get an immunologist and immunopathologist to test for damage after exposure to
TCE. After spending for tests he was able to have his immunologist execute an affidavit saying
that there is a reasonable medical certainty that TCE had contributed to significant illnesses,
including leukemia. This brief he sent to both Cheeseman and Judge Skinner. In the meantime
there were many expenses and not much coming from Roismans group. Schlichtmann went to
Milwaukee where Trial Lawyers for Public Justice was having its annual board meeting. He was
going to ask for more money. What he got was far more, he got the Woburn case.
Judge Skinner had given both Cheeseman and Schlichtmann nine months to complete
their discovery. After that they would be selecting a jury. By now, Cheeseman had discovered
that his client had used more TCE than reported, and that drums were buried at the plant years
ago. The EPA had implicated one more company, Unifirst, in their report and Cheeseman filed a
motion to implead Unifirst. It turned out to be a costly mistake. Unifirst did not cooperate.
Instead Unifirst paid a settlement to Schlichtmann and the money was used to finance the
Woburn case.