Water Supply Problems in Massachusetts

A Civil Action follows the lawsuit against W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods by multiple Woburn, Massachusetts residents. These companies were accused of abandoning harmful chemicals in the public water supply. The people of Woburn, Massachusetts formally made complaints regarding the wrongful deaths of the children of many families in the town. Many have died young and it is believed to be because of the water supply of the town.

The complaints are for Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace and Company. Mr. Cheeseman is the attorney on behalf of W.R. Grace and Mr. Facher the attorney on behalf of Beatrice Foods. Grace Industries replies with dismissal because of “Rule II”. The judge in the case decides to deny the motion to dismiss and continue the case. Methods of discovery began with the deposition of witnesses by the attorneys.

The witnesses consisted of the family members of the victims and employees of the plant in the town that is alleged to have the responsibility in the mistreatment of the water. A worker stated that he saw the waste of the plant be dumped into the water. More witnesses came forward and stated what had happened to them and their families. Schlichtmann obtains a warrant to sample the soil on the land. A team of geologists and examine the land and the chemicals that are in the ground.

After discovering evidence, both parties attempt to reach a settlement. Cheeseman is willing to offer to $25 million to settle. Schlitchmann gets too emotional and asks for and additional $25 million and $1.5 million per family for life. There is no agreement and this case now goes to trial. During his opening statement, Schlichtmann made arguments that had favored his clients and promoted the defendants as large corporations that had performed wrongdoings that led to the deaths of children.

Both defenses stated that they had no involvement in the deaths. The jury hears the evidence found during discovery. Schlichtmann’s defense includes evidence such as geological studies regarding the soil and water and knowledge about the chemical that made the water unsafe for consumption, TCP. The trial continues with the cross-examinations of witnesses heard during the discovery process. The judge requests that the jury complete a mid-trial survey to decide which parties could be held liable for the contaminated water.

There were no closing arguments as a deal had been made, ending the trial. Beatrice Foods was found innocent in this case, however, W.R. Grace and Company was not. W.R Grace settled at $8 million. He later went on to dig into the case even further and he eventually brought it to the attention of the EPA which filed a lawsuit against both companies finding them both liable due to negligence. Schlichtmann is successful in demonstrating that the plaintiffs had a right to pure drinking water under various government acts and that Beatrice and Grace had an obligation to not interfere with the people of Woburn’s’ rights.

Beatrice and Grace had a duty of care to not discard deadly chemicals into the water, which potentially poisoned drinking water. Breach of duty is clearly proven in this incident. The witness, Al Love, testifies that he saw his coworkers dumping toxic waste into ditches that reached the drinking water. Breach of duty, given that this act was not something a reasonable person would do, occurred. Schlichtmann proves this by showing that other companies would have had this waste disposed of by specialists.

It is nearly impossible to prove that the actions of Grace and Beatrice were the direct cause of leukemia in the children. The defense establishes this skepticism by questioning if the plaintiffs had ever managed any other known carcinogens such as hairspray and Teflon pans. They replied “yes” and created doubt that the toxic waste was the proximate cause of the cancer cluster. Additionally, proximate cause is difficult to prove when cancer is a randomly occurring disease.