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Oregon Radiation Suit Settled for $1.5 Million

On April 24, 2001, a class action lawsuit by Oregon prisoners who participated in radiation experiments from 1963 to 1973 was settled for $1,517,000 in damages, attorneys' fees, costs and expenses.

Sixty_seven prisoners at the Oregon State Penitentiary participated in experiments in which their testicles were irradiated to determine the effects of Xray radiation on the reproductive process. As part of the experiments, the prisoners were given vasectomies, and multiple biopsies of testicular tissue were taken. The study, known as the "Heller Experiments," was funded by the United States Atomic Energy Commission (now the U.S. Department of Energy).

The prisoners filed suit in federal court against the Pacific Northwest Research Institute, Battelle Memorial Institute, various individuals, and the federal government, alleging that the experiments were conducted without obtaining the fully informed consent of the subjects, and that defendants violated their federal constitutional rights and rights under Oregon common law.

In August 2000, counsel for plaintiffs and defendants (except for the United States ) agreed to engage in mediation, which ultimately resulted in the proposed settlement.

The proposed class consisted of all 67 prisoners who were irradiated, their spouses, children, and the estates of deceased subjects. However, despite extensive efforts to identify all class members, plaintiffs' counsel could locate only 21 and it was believed to be unlikely that many more would make claims.

Assuming that only 21 claims were filed, the base pro rata share for each prisoner would be $71,761 before attorneys' fees and costs and any claims by spouses and/or children. Lead plaintiff, Harold Bibeau, was also awarded a $25,000 incentive for his active participation and pursuit of the litigation, for a pro rata share of $96,761.

Although the potential number of spousal/children claims is unknown, assuming that no more than 42 such claims were filed, "the approximate net amount that will be available for distribution to radiated experiment subjects is likely to be in the range of $15,000 to $25,000." However, plaintiffs' counsel estimates that the individual net amount will be closer to $30,000.

Because the United States did not join in the settlement, the lawsuit continues against the federal government, unaffected by the terms of the settlement.

For a more detailed discussion of these experiments, see "Cheaper Than Lab Rats" [ PLN, March 1999], and "Irradiation Limitation Remains Unsettled," [ PLN, Nov. 2000].

See: Bibeau v. Pacific Northwest Research Foundation, et al ., USDC No. CV. 9506410H0.

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Related legal case

Bibeau v. Pacific Northwest Research Foundation