JOINT PRESS RELEASE
Settlement in Dover case,
Asbury Park Press
3 companies, families end dispute over
cases of childhood cancer
By JEAN MIKLE
TOMS RIVER BUREAU
TOMS RIVER --
Lawyers representing 69 families of children stricken with cancer
yesterday announced that a settlement they've reached with two
chemical companies and Dover Township's public water provider will
give families an undisclosed amount of money. The agreement also
will end four years of mediation among the parties about possible
links between environmental contamination and childhood cancer here.
"The families of Toms
River have something to share with the rest of the world," said
Massachusetts lawyer Jan Schlictmann, who represented the families,
along with Cherry Hill lawyers Mark R. Cuker and Esther E.
Berezofsky. Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp., Union Carbide Corp. and
United Water Toms River agreed to the settlement, which was
The terms and
conditions of the settlement are confidential, Cuker said yesterday,
although the families will receive an undisclosed amount of money.
Under the agreement, none of the companies admitted responsibility
or any liability for childhood cancer cases here. The final
settlement will require court approval for family members who are
still minors, the lawyers said.
Cuker could not say
whether the settlement includes payment for future medical
monitoring of the families, a goal some family members had said they
would pursue during negotiations.
resident Joseph Kotran, whose 5-year-old daughter, Lauren, is in
remission after battling neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous
system, said the settlement helped avoid a protracted legal battle
that could have dragged on for many years. "It's for the children,"
he said. "Some of them, they're not going to be around in 10 years.
It means we can put that whole episode behind us," said Kotran, who
belongs to the group Toxic Environment Affects Children's Health or
TEACH, whose members hired Schlictmann, Berezofsky and Cuker to
represent them in late 1997. "You're never going to be completely
satisfied, if you have a daughter or son with cancer. We are going
to be concerned about her health for the rest of her life."
Kotran said he
supported the lawyers' decision not to file a lawsuit against the
companies and instead try to share information and negotiate a
"Obviously there must
have been something there, as they went around and exchanged
information, to lead (the companies) to believe there should be a
settlement," Kotran said. TEACH was formed in late 1997 by about 40
families of children with cancer, many of whom believed there was a
link between environmental contamination in Dover and their
From the start,
Schlictmann, Berezofsky and Cuker urged the families to enter
discussions with Ciba, Carbide and United Water Toms River. Starting
early in 1998, TEACH entered into a series of 18-month
"tolling/standstill agreements" with the three companies, which
established a period of time in which the families agreed not to sue
so that information could be exchanged.
Ciba and Carbide have
assumed responsibility for contamination at Dover's two Superfund
sites. United Water bought the public water system serving most of
the township from the Toms River Water Co. in 1994.
TEACH member Linda L.
Gillick, whose 22-year-old son, Michael, has battled neuroblastoma
since infancy, said the agreement can not provide closure for
families still struggling with the effects of childhood cancer.
"It's not closure. It's everyone working together from all sides to
come to an agreement that was basically satisfactory. And it's a lot
better than going into the courtroom," said Gillick, who is
executive director of Ocean of Love, a support group for families of
children with cancer. "For the families, reliving what their
children went through and are going through, and for those who have
lost their children, it's very, very painful. By not having to go
into a courtroom, this puts it behind us."
Schlictmann said he
believes the families' decision to share information with the
companies and reach a settlement without filing a lawsuit resulted
in an agreement that benefited all the parties involved. He said he
believes the Toms River case will become a model copied by other
lawyers and families pursuing environmental contamination cases.
"To the families'
credit, they decided that they would have the courage to try another
way of doing things, (a way) that honored their tragedy and was able
to encourage respect for themselves and the companies," Schlictmann
Ciba, Union Carbide and United Water Toms River also praised the
settlement, saying the mediation process was effective and fair.
"I think that the
process involved wound up being a very effective process because it
enabled all the stakeholders to discuss this issue without the fear
of litigation hanging over our heads," said Carbide spokesman Tomm
Sprick. "We have seen historically that once a case is filed in
court, irregardless of the subject matter, the parties will pull
back and start posturing. This enabled the free and open exchange
between the groups."
spokesman Richard Henning said he believes that reaching a
settlement was in the community's best interest. "I think what the
settlement does is, certainly, to enable the community and the
companies, including United Water Toms River, to move on," Henning
"I think that's
ultimately best for the community. Nobody has all the answers here."
Donna Jakubowski, a
spokeswoman for Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp., the successor to the
Ciba-Geigy Corp., said the agreement brings some closure to Ciba as
well as the families.
"We participated in
good faith in the negotiations," Jakubowski said. "For us, it means
that now that we've brought closure to this, we can move forward to
concentrate on the remediation of the (Ciba) site, which has always
been our ultimate goal."
fame fighting an eight-year court battle on behalf of several
Woburn, Mass., families who believed contaminated drinking water had
caused their children's leukemia. The legal battle was documented in
the best-selling book, "A Civil Action," which was made into a movie
starring John Travolta as Schlictmann.
counsels families against "going to war" in environmental
contamination cases, believing instead that both families and
industry may be better served if all parties agree to share
information and attempt to reach a settlement without lengthy
He said the Toms
River families were able to achieve an agreement in less than four
years, compared to the more than eight years of litigation in
Woburn. "Now they have something to say to other communities," he
said. "Try this kind of approach to see if that might not work to
resolve this problem. . . . This process offers the opportunity to
do this sooner rather than later."
Not all lawyers
involved in environmental litigation share Schlictmann's views. Last
year, Toms River lawyer Norman Hobbie and lawyers Christopher
Placitella, Michael Gordon and Angelo Cifaldi filed a series of
lawsuits against Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp. and United Water on
behalf of hundreds of people they say were harmed by exposure to
contaminated drinking water and polluted air emanating from the
Gordon and Cifaldi have argued that companies are not likely to
disclose all available information unless they are forced to do so.
But Cuker said the complicated facts of the TEACH families' case,
coupled with the ongoing state and federal investigation into
elevated levels of some childhood cancers in Dover, led the lawyers
to seek another method of settling the families' claims.
"We know the pros and
cons of litigation," Cuker said. "We decided in this case, which
involved many, many children with cancer, and a state and federal
investigation pending, that we would use an unusual process. We
engaged in this process and wound up exchanging as much if not more
information than we would have had we decided to litigate."
TEACH and the
companies had their own scientific consultants and medical experts,
Cuker said. In the end, the lengthy scientific inquiry by all the
experts did not result in any agreement that the companies were
responsible for the childhood cancer cases here.
Eric Green, a
mediator with Boston-based Resolutions Inc., participated in the
mediation process during the last eight months and helped the
parties reach a settlement, Cuker said.
yesterday's settlement announcement is not connected in any way to
Tuesday's release of an epidemiological study that is the
centerpiece of the 5 1/2-year-long state and federal investigation
into childhood cancer levels here.
The release of the
epidemiological study will conclude the childhood cancer
Readers interested in
details of the historical reconstruction methodology, simulation
approaches, or results for specific years and locations for the
Dover Township area should refer to the full report that is
available over the Internet at the ATSDR Web site at URL:
The summary report is
available to view in "pdf" format in this site: