Class-action waters muddy


A class-action lawsuit against Dow Chemical Co. has swept over the Tittabawassee River, now encircling about 2,000 properties.

People once detached from the dioxin debate suddenly find it at their fingertips. Those undecided about Dow's culpability now must make a decision.

Saginaw County Chief Circuit Judge Leopold P. Borrello decided Oct. 21 that a class-action lawsuit against Dow Chemical Co. can go forward on claims that historic dioxin releases have devalued riverside properties.

Yet uncertainty swirls about what the lawsuit means for neighborhoods near the river, specifically who is eligible, what is at stake and what options are available to homeowners.

Within two months, property owners likely will receive letters confirming that they are members of the class. The mailer will provide a brief history of the case and options available for those who want, or don't want, to participate.

The lawsuit is sure to sweep over residents such as Shannon Edlinger, a homeowner whose backyard is beside, and sometimes beneath, the dioxin-tainted Tittabawassee.

True to the definition of the class, Edlinger lives within the river's 100-year floodplain -- generally described as the high-water mark of the 1986 flood -- and owned his property on Feb. 1, 2002.

Litigation didn't catch Edlinger by surprise, as it did for a neighbor who said she will need some facts and legal advice before deciding wheth-er to sue. Instead, Edlinger said he has watched and waited for a class-action suit to materialize.

"I figured I would be a part of it sooner of later," said Edlinger, 46, of Thomas Township. "The only way they could pull it off would be a class-action lawsuit."

Up the river, Susan Henry wonders whether her home of about four years will fall within the current of litigation. It meets the time requirement, but she doesn't recall a time when floodwaters reached her property.

Henry, 57, really isn't interested in suing anyone. She opted out of a class-action lawsuit that followed the Freeland train derailment in 1989 and said she probably will opt out of this suit as well.

"I'm not one to go out and blame anybody unless (the damage) is proven," she said.

Even as attorneys prepare a mass mailing, Dow officials have vowed to challenge Borrello's decision before the Michigan Court of Appeals. Spokesman Scot Wheeler said attorneys will file an appeal sometime this month.

What could stop the mailing is Dow's request for a stay on all local proceedings. The chemical giant filed such a request with the Saginaw County Circuit Court this week, which attorneys will discuss in a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Attorney Bruce Trogan, who represents residents along the river, hopes to send out letters by the end of the year.

Once the letters are mailed, residents will have 60 days to opt out of the suit. v

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

For additional articles like this one, go to the Tittabawassee River Watch web site for complete coverage of the Tittabawassee River Dow Chemical dioxin contamination saga. . The Newspaper / Media page of our site contains an extensive archive of media articles dating back to January 2002. The source organization's web site link is listed to the right of the article, visit often for other news in our area. The Newspaper / Media page may be accessed by scrolling down to the bottom of the CONTENTS section and clicking on the Newspaper/Media link.