Thomas Smith V. General Electric Company
and Boston Edison Company
Pilgrim radiation suit will go to trial
Ruling for family of plant worker killed by leukemia
April 27, 2004
By SUE REINERT
The Patriot Ledger
The widow and children of a Pilgrim nuclear plant worker have won the right to a trial on their assertion that radiation exposure caused the worker's death from leukemia.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns ruled Friday that the family of the late Thomas Smith of Hanson could present testimony from scientific experts to back up the radiation claim.
The family's Boston lawyer, Edward Dangel, said the suit is the first of its kind in New England to be allowed to go to trial.
"It's a groundbreaking case," Dangel said yesterday.
The former Boston Edison Co., which operated the nuclear plant when Smith worked there in the 1970s and 1980s, had asked Stearns to block the testimony as scientifically invalid, and to dismiss the case.
Lawyers for Nstar, which took over Boston Edison, had not fully reviewed the decision, and company officials "would be reluctant to discuss ongoing litigation," Nstar spokesman Michael Durand said yesterday.
He said the case "has been in the courts for many years, and we know it's been a long and difficult process for all sides."
The Smith lawsuit against Boston Edison and General Electric Co., which made fuel rods for the plant, has been inching through federal court for more than 12 years. Smith filed it on Nov. 12, 1991, after being diagnosed with leukemia.
He died on June 2, 1992, after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Smith, 45, left a wife and three children.
The suit says defective fuel rods at Pilgrim emitted plutonium and other nuclear material that can expose internal organs to radiation. Smith also alleged that Boston Edison used two different radiation measures?? for workers and ignored the one that reported higher doses.
The suit contends that the radiation penetrated Smith's bones and caused him to develop chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, a rare form of cancer that attacks the bone marrow and is associated with a chromosome abnormality.
In court, each side presented experts from prestigious universities; they disagreed about whether radiation could have caused the disease.
Judge Stearns said "the problem is not that too much is known about the association between radiation and a disease like CML, but too little."
Although the views of Boston Edison's experts are more accepted, "I cannot dismiss (the Smith) experts as poseurs or witnesses for hire," he wrote in his decision. "They are serious scientists with controversial views."
The family's theory is "on the outer rim of supportable science" but plausible enough to go to trial, where a jury will decide the issue, Stearns wrote.
A number of Pilgrim workers have filed suits claiming that radiation exposure harmed them, but all of the suits were dismissed before trial, said Dangel, the Smith family's lawyer.
"There have been other cases across the country where courts have permitted a trial, but not a whole lot," he said.
Dangel said the lawsuit has taken years because "the medical and scientific evidence has been extremely difficult to sift through." The defendants also filed several motions to dismiss the case, he said.
The decision Friday came after a hearing two years ago that lasted for eight days, Dangel said. "This is a judge known to be extraordinarily thoughtful and careful in his analysis," he said.
The United States District Court, District of Massachusetts April 23, 2004 opinion by Judge D.J. Stearns may be accessed on the following website:
about radiation health effects