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Our View: Brain cancer case gets a second trial

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The U.S. court system moves slowly, oftentimes frustratingly so.

Cases can take years to get to trial, and then take additional years to get through the appeals process.

Joanne Branham and 32 other plaintiffs who have filed suit against a Ringwood manufacturer, blaming it for a series of brain and pituitary cancers in the McCullom Lake area, are learning exactly that.

For Branham, however, it’s better that her case move slowly than not at all.

A Pennsylvania appeals court last week granted Branham a new trial after overturning a judge’s decision to throw out her lawsuit against Rohm and Haas, whose Ringwood specialty chemical plant is accused in 33 lawsuits of causing a cancer cluster in the McCullom Lake area.

We applaud the reversal, and hope Branham gets the opportunity to present her full case before a jury of her peers.

Branham first filed suit in 2006. Her case went to trial in 2010 but was abruptly cut short in early 2011 when Judge Allan Tereshko dismissed it with prejudice, not allowing her lawyers to finish presenting evidence to a jury.

Branham appealed, and finally got the decision she was hoping for two-and-a-half years later.

The Northwest Herald has been investigating the McCullom Lake story since 2007. One thing we can say – and have said – with certainty is that, no matter how you look at the evidence, a cluster of cancer cases exists in McCullom Lake and the Lakeland Park subdivision of McHenry, which sits directly south.

By definition, a cluster exists when a greater-than-expected number of similar cancers turn up within a group of people within a specific geographic area over time. Of the 33 plaintiffs, 26 have suffered from some form of brain cancer. Of those 26, 10 are victims of glioblastoma multiforme, which affects only about three people in 100,000.

To us, it’s clear that a cluster exists. What’s not clear is what caused the cancers. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that we’ll never know.

We do know, however, that each of the plaintiffs deserves a full trial on the merits of the case. They should be able to present all of their evidence in front of a jury of their peers.

Last week’s decision was a small victory for Branham and the other plaintiffs.

Now let their cases be heard.

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