Attorney urges class-action suit for Tittabawassee River residents

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Jan P. Helder is the first to admit that residents along the Tittabawassee River are not the same.

But the Kansas City-based attorney says they have enough in common to justify a class-action lawsuit against Dow Chemical Co.

Helder filed arguments Friday to certify a class-action lawsuit against the chemical giant. The suit potentially could include more than 2,000 residents along the Tittabawassee River.

But first, the attorney must prove that the residents are similar enough for the judge to consider them a class.

Dow officials don't think residents meet that standard, not when their lifestyles, histories and properties are so different.

Some people have called the river home for 25 years. Others bought a home three months ago. Some people work in manufacturing jobs that could expose them to dioxin. Others spend their hours in an office.

Dow attorney Kathleen A. Lang said those differences matter when you are asking one group to represent an entire community.

"You have to have uniformity," she said.

Helder claims to have that "uniformity." But it does not mean that residents dress the same, shop at the same grocery store or work at the same place, he said.

The common thread is that every resident along the Tittabawassee River is exposed to the same toxin, linked to the same industry, that has destroyed property values and threatened their health, Helder said.

"We don't dispute that they are all different," he said. "We make no claims that this is a Stepford (or identical) community. If that were the standard, then there'd be no class-action lawsuits."

Helder also argued in his brief for ongoing medical monitoring -- a provision that would require Dow to pay for precautionary medical testing and treatment related to dioxin.

The attorney said medical monitoring is an appropriate class-action claim when dioxin exposure is common throughout the floodplain. The class-action hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 6. t

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.


© 2004 Saginaw News

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