State District Jury Leaves Pilgrim Cleaners Out To Dry

Hicks Thomas & Lilienstern, LLP represents R.R Street & Co. in a Case That Will Affect the Future of the Dry-Cleaning Industry

(HOUSTON) – On July 20, 1998, a state district jury found R.R. Street & Co., a Naperville, Illinois based manufacturer of dry-cleaning equipment, not liable for Pilgrim Cleaners’ environmental cleanup costs. The 11-1 decision in the nine-week case was returned after only a day and a half of deliberation. Street was represented during the trial by Houston firm Hicks Thomas & Lilienstern, LLP.

In the suit, former owners of Pilgrim Cleaners, the Robertson family, claimed dry cleaning equipment manufacturers withheld information from Pilgrim on the dangers of perchloroethylene (perc), a widely used dry-cleaning solvent that, if disposed into sanitary sewers, could lead to pollution. Perc was labeled a hazardous chemical by the National Institute of Health in 1977, after it was found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. It is unclear whether the chemical causes cancer in humans.

“(The verdict says) someone who is going to get into this business has the responsibility for using these chemicals properly,” said John Thomas, Street attorney and Partner at Hicks Thomas & Lilienstern, LLP. “The information on perc is readily available and Pilgrim, being one of the country’s largest dry cleaners, should know about the environmental issues.”

In 1995, the Robertsons sued several major manufacturers, including Dow Chemical Co., Hoyt Corp., Harkrider Distributing Co. and Vic Manufacturing Co., in hope of recovering $12 million in cleanup costs. Except for Street, all of the manufacturers involved settled with the Pilgrim owners.

The dry cleaning industry did not consider disposal to be an environmental problem until the early 1990s, when a California study showed perc may escape through cracks in sewer lines because it is heavier than water. “Dry cleaners were immediately notified,” says Thomas. “Street is being used as a scapegoat by Pilgrim, a dry cleaner that did not handle waste material properly and that knew it was taking a risk by pouring water with dissolved perc down the drain.”

Pilgrim attorneys said they were considering an appeal. Several similar suits are pending in the United States, but this case is the first of its kind to go to trial.

For more information, contact Lesley Keller at 713/547-9137