Best known for his work on a lawsuit which served as the basis for a best-selling non-fiction book, attorney Jan Schlichtmann is a currently operating attorney best known for his work on the case Anderson v. Cryovac. Though he lost the case, the publicity attendant to the work resulted in more stringent Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
The case was instigated in the early 1980s, when Jan Schlichtmann met with representatives of the town of Woburn, Massachusetts. In 1979, the state's Department of Environmental Quality tested the town's water wells and determined that two out of eight had been contaminated by trichlorethylene, a chemical which had caused cancer in animals in laboratory tests. Trichlorethylene was found to be present in levels five times higher than safe, and the wells were immediately closed. A 1982 investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency traced the contamination to dumping performed at factory grounds used by two companies, the chemical plant of W.R. Grace and the John J. Riley Tannery
Following the closing of the wells, six children who all lived on the same block of Waltham were diagnosed with leukemia. Jan Schlichtmann and his partners agreed to represent the eight families in question in a lawsuit against the two companies. In part due to the arguments presented by lead defense counselor Jerome Facher, the presiding judge agreed to have the trial take place in two parts.
In the first part of the trial, Jan Schlichtmann and his partners were required to demonstrate that W.R. Grace and the John J. Riley Tannery were responsible for the contamination of the wells in question. After 79 days of trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty regarding W.R. Grace but not for the John J. Riley Tannery. At this point, the trial continued to its second part, in which Jan Schlichtmann was required to demonstrate that the contamination was the direct cause of the development of leukemia.
At this point, Jan Schlichtmann and his partners had incurred a great deal of debt, in part because of the expenses necessitated to commission studies proving a link between trichlorethylene and leukemia development. Unable to proceed with the case fiscally, Jan Schlichtmann and his partners negotiated a $8 million settlement with W.R. Grace.
After the close of the trial, an in-house report produced by the Tannery emerged proving that the company knew that it had dumped waste chemicals in an illegal fashion, leading to contamination. Jan Schlichtmann therefore appealed the ruling regarding the tannery on the grounds that their attorney had knowingly suppressed this evidence. The case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which agreed with Jan Schlichtmann and ordered the original presiding judge to reconsider the case.
Ultimately, the presiding judge agreed with the claim of withholding evidence. However, in his opinion the judge ruled that Jan Schlichtmann had launched a frivolous lawsuit when filing without this evidence and ruled against him.