Med-mal Settlement Helps Fund Overhaul of State Fishing Regulations

A fish story

By Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, June 7, 2010

Attorneys at Boston’s Lubin & Meyer certainly see a lot of medical-malpractice cases with hefty awards and settlements handed out to compensate clients harmed by improper care or treatment. For the most part, those financial windfalls go to benefit clients and their families or are donated to medical research facilities and charities.

Rarely, says William J. Thompson, are such settlements used to benefit fish.

But that’s just what the late Anita Goldner demanded be done with a $1.5 million settlement Thompson obtained for her last year against a Massachusetts physician.

The 58-year-old woman, a math professor at Framingham State College, died in 2005 of endometrial cancer. Goldner filed suit just before her death, claiming her doctor failed to diagnose the condition for two years following an initial biopsy in 2000. The physician maintained Goldner died of ovarian—not endometrial—cancer.

"It was complicated by the fact that it was not only endometrial cancer, it was also thought to be ovarian cancer," Thompson says of the case. "That was a big problem in terms of causation."

But without a surviving spouse or children waiting in the wings, Goldner found it rough going to find an attorney willing to take the case, says friend David Reich, who served as the executor of Goldner’s estate. In all, nine firms turned the case down before Lubin & Meyer got on board in 2006, he says. "There just wasn't anyone for a jury to sympathize with - that’s what I was told," Reich says.

In her will, Goldner stated explicitly that, should the case reach a settlement, she wanted the proceeds given to the Environmental Defense Fund, a national environmental advocacy organization she had supported and been a member of for 30 years.

Family, friends and colleagues held a dedication ceremony on May 25 at the EDF’s local office on Tremont Street in Boston to acknowledge Goldner’s gift of just under $1 million. The money is being used to support the organization’s New England Fisheries Program.

"She would've been delighted," Reich says.

"Anita’s bequest is really helping us to advocate for this change that aligns fishing profitability with conservation," says Julie Wormser, the New England and Mid-Atlantic director for EDF’s Oceans Program. "Our current regulations are crazy: They help neither fish nor fishermen."

Wormser says the money has supported EDF’s advocacy efforts to promote "catch shares," a new cap-and-trade style program that went into effect in New England waters on May 1. The program limits the annual harvest of certain kinds of ground fish, such as cod, haddock and flounder, and in return guarantees fishing cooperatives a certain share of the catch.

Supporters hope the program, part of a national effort to harmonize fishing and conservation interests, will control the depletion of fish stock in the fiercely competitive New England waters, the oldest fishing community in the nation and an area historically resistant to fishing regulations, Wormser says.

"Even though Anita is gone, her legacy lives on with something that’s near and dear to her heart," Thompson adds.

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