Judge reviews dioxin suit

Kathie Marchlewski , The Midland Daily News


SAGINAW – The Dow Chemical Co. wants to know what it’s up against before plaintiffs in a lawsuit over dioxin in the Tittabawassee flood plain proceed.
The company asked Monday that Saginaw County Circuit Court Judge Leopold R. Borrello narrow the focus of the claim, then grant or deny class action status. When the scope of the matter is clear, parties would begin gathering evidence.
"Dow is entitled to know if it is defending a class action, or defending individual lawsuits," Dow attorney Kathleen A. Lang said.
The suit as filed names 179 plaintiffs. If it is certified as class action, there would be more than 2,000. Damages of more than $100,000 each likely will be sought.
Plaintiffs feel Dow is delaying the inevitable by requesting the suit proceed in phases.
"This is a simple case for class certification," said Kansas-based attorney Jan Helder, representing plaintiffs. "What Dow is doing here is delay. Every day that goes by is a victory for Dow."
Plaintiffs believe their homes have been devalued to the point of worthlessness by dioxin deposited there by the chemical company. They hope to begin researching the merits of the case via Dow records as soon as possible.
Helder said information gathered as evidence would remain relevant if the case is split and tried individually.
"Whether this case proceeds as class action or on behalf of 179, 200, or 300 – this case is proceeding to trial regardless." Helder said.
Besides hoping to recover the value of their homes and land, the plaintiffs are asking that Dow fund a medical trust to cover monitoring of their health and of all people who have lived in the flood plain since 1984. Exposure to the dioxin, they say, has put their health in jeopardy.
Dow has asked that the medical portion of the suit be tossed out. None of the plaintiffs had their individual properties tested for dioxin levels, and none have been told by a medical professional that they have been affected, or will be, by exposure, Dow attorneys have said.
Residents of the Tittabawassee flood plain last week received a second advisory from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stating that they are at risk for health affects related to dioxin exposure.
The notice also reminded that property owners must disclose information about contamination to potential buyers. The agency has confirmed that based on soil sampling, any land that floods in the area is contaminated.
Plaintiff’s attorney’s expect Borrello to make a decision on the schedule of the case’s proceedings in about a week.

©Midland Daily News 2003