The Woburn Toxic Trial Process

In complicated lawsuits, it is not uncommon for the legal process to span several years from submission of the original complaint to completion of the trial. The lawsuit filed by the eight families in Woburn extended from 1979, past the trial held in 1986, through appeals that lasted into 1990. Many of the key issues related to the Woburn Toxic Trial are shown on the time table shown below.

Woburn Toxic Trial Chronology


May 22, 1979Massachusetts closes Woburn wells G and H because of measured contamination of organic solvents is well above U.S. Public Health Standards.
October 4, 1979Rev. Bruce Young begins organizing local families that have one or more family members diagnosed with leukemia.


August, 1980First meeting between attorneys and families with members having been diagnosed with leukemia.
October, 1980Families engage attorney Joe Mulligan of Mulligan & Reed.


May 1981Attorney Jan Schlichtmann meets with families on behalf of Mulligan & Reed.


May 14, 1982Woburn families file complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court for Middlesex County alleging contamination of Wells G and H by Beatrice Foods, Inc. (John J. Riley Tannery) and W.R. Grace & Co. (Cryovac) causing the unusual occurrence of leukemia in Woburn.
May 19, 1982Summons served on W.R. Grace and Beatrice regarding the plaintiffs' complaint.
June 9, 1982W.R. Grace files answers to the complaint in state court.
October 7, 1982Plaintiffs initiate pretrial discovery presenting interrogatories to W.R. Grace and Beatrice.
November 9, 1982 Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures invoked by W.R. Grace.
December 15, 1982 Rule 11 hearing between attorneys and Judge Skinner.


January 6, 1983Second hearing on Rule 11 motion.
February 7, 1983W.R. Grace submits answers to interrogatories (initial response)
December 1983Incorporation of the law firm Schlichtmann, Conway and Crowley.


May 18, 1984W.R. Grace requests summary judgment.
July 25, 1984Judge Skinner denies summary judgment.
September 5, 1984Parties begin scheduling order of depositions of potential witnesses.
October 26, 1984Judge Skinner rules on impleader filed by W.R. Grace to add UniFirst as a defendant.


January 7, 1985Beginning of depositions; Schlichtmann, Conway and Crowley initiate environmental assessment of Riley 15-acre property.
September 1985WGBH in Boston and Chedd-Angier move to intervene to use deposition information to make the Woburn story into a TV documentary.
December 1985CBS, Inc. files a Complaint of Intervenor for case information regarding its development of a '60 Minutes' segment regarding Woburn; first deposition of George Pinder, the plaintiffs' hydrogeology expert.


January 1986Depositions of plaintiffs' and defendants' other experts. Depositions completed January 22, 1986.
January 29, 1986First day of pretrial conference; Judge Skinner announces intent to divide trial into separate phases, the first phase requiring demonstration that either or both defendants contaminated wells G and H.
February 17, 1986First day of jury impaneling; jury selection continues through February 25.
March 2, 1986'60 Minutes' broadcasts segment titled "What Killed Jimmy Anderson".
March 10, 1986Trial begins with plaintiffs presenting their case.
June 2, 1986Defendants' move for directed verdicts. Defendants' experts begin testimony.
June 9, 1986Judge Skinner rules against directed verdicts. The trial continues.
July 1, 1986 Jurors and Judge Skinner visit the Woburn wells G and H, and the defendants' properties.
July 14, 1986Closing arguments made by parties.
July 15, 1986Judge Skinner provides jurors with a set of interrogatory questions concerning the specific year and month that a particular contaminant reached wells G and H.
July 28, 1986Jurors reach verdict: Beatrice acquitted, Grace found liable for contaminating wells G and H. First phase of the trial ends. The next phase, demonstrating causality of leukemia by the remaining defendant (W.R. Grace & Co.) is scheduled to begin in September.
September 21, 1986Phase two of the trial begins.
September 22, 1986Judge Skinner announces grant of new trial for Phase one based on a motion submitted by W.R. Grace for a mistrial. Plaintiffs and W.R. Grace reach an out-of-court settlement. Judge Skinner dismisses the jury.
October 31, 1986Plaintiffs file an appeal against Beatrice.


1987U.S. Geological Survey releases report titled "Area of Influence and Zone of Contribution to Superfund Site Wells G & H, Woburn Massachusetts," which contains the analysis and interpretation of the raw data collected in 1985 and 1986 prior to the trial.
September 1987Plaintiffs made aware of the 1983 "Yankee" report.
October 26, 1987Hearings on plaintiffs' motion for vacation of judgment regarding Beatrice.


January 22, 1988Judge Skinner denies motion for new trial against Beatrice.
January 25, 1988Plaintiffs appeal Judge Skinner's ruling against retrial of Beatrice.
July 27, 1988Oral arguments in the Court of Appeals regarding requests for new trial.
December 22, 1988Judge Skinner issues further orders regarding requests of appeals.


April 30, 1990United States Court of Appeals denies plaintiffs request for a rehearing the case.


July 1991U.S. EPA finalizes a $69.5 million settlement with five responsible parties for the cleanup of the Wells G & H Superfund Site. The responsible parties include Beatrice, W.R. Grace, UniFirst, Hemingway Trucking, and New England Plastics.