CHICAGO (CN) – The parents of a girl who developed brain cancer can access over a decade of data on an Exelon power plant they claim discharged harmful radiation, a federal judge ruled, but the energy giant can withhold certain other information.
Joseph and Cynthia Sauer say their daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor, roughly three years after the family moved to Grundy County, where Exelon operates the Dresden Generating Station and Unitech Services Group has a nuclear facility.
They claim that radioactive discharges from the plants traveled through the groundwater, causing Sarah’s cancer.
After receiving the Sauers’ lawsuit, Exelon and Unitech said Sarah’s diagnosis should frame the discovery period, which it proposed to run between 1996 and 2004, two years before and three years after.
The Sauers countered with a motion to access Exelon’s historical data going back to the early 1990s, which they said their expert witness need to determine the impact of the facility on Sarah, since radioactive materials persist for long periods of time in groundwater.
The plaintiffs also moved to compel Exelon to produce documents related to three similar lawsuits filed in 2006.
Meanwhile, Unitech filed a motion to compel the plaintiffs to provide specific facts underlying their claims against Unitech and to provide a damages disclosure statement.
The court partially granted the Sauers’ motion against Exelon, but also directed them to clarify and substantiate their claims against Unitech.
Exelon’s objections to the requested time frame are premature, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan found. “Given plaintiffs’ expert’s statement that contamination from the Dresden facility can persist for long periods of time, releases dating back to the early 1990s could be relevant to Plaintiffs’ claims or could lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” she wrote.
But the court will not let the Sauers compel production Exelon documents from other radioactive-release cases to the extent that they concern releases from a different facility in Braidwood, which may have had radioactive leaks around the same time as the Dresden generator.
The Sauers had said these lawsuits “involve similar claims and can be used to establish a pattern or a habit or routine practice.”
“Plaintiffs have not articulated how building a case against Exelon for negligence at Dresden or fraud based on activities at Dresden is in any way aided by information relating to the Braidwood facility,” Nolan said (italics in original).
Though the Sauers fought Unitech’s request for clarification of their claims, the judge disagreed that such interrogatories are vague, overbroad or premature.
Nolan also directed the Sauers to provide a damages disclosure statement, rejecting the couple’s claim such filings are not required in personal-injury cases.
Personal-injury plaintiffs must “provide a specific computation of their damages and make available documents and other evidentiary material on which the computation is based,” Nolan wrote.
Citing precedent, she admonished that “the modern attitude toward discovery regards secrecy as uncongenial to truth-seeking and trial by ambush as destructive of the overarching goal that cases be justly determined on their merits.”
By Sept. 2, Exelon must respond to the granted portion of the Sauers’ motion and the Sauers must clear up their claims against Unitech.