Between 1917 and 1923 over 800 women worked for the United States Radium Corporation ("USRC") in Orange, New Jersey handpainting wrist-watch faces with a substance made luminescent by radioactive materials. While these workers were exposed to injurious, even mortal, levels of radiation, less than a dozen received any compensation for their injuries. These features compounded the workers' legal problems once they entered the formal legal system by dramatically complicating attempts to prove causation, by raising the specter of the statute of limitations defense, and by playing a major role in the settlement negotiation process. As a consequence, even when some women did resort to the formal legal system for relief, they faced hurdles endemic to the legal process and a dynamic of litigation that favored and rewarded repeat-player defendants. This article examines the radium dial-painter episode in four main sections. The first section presents a basic, historical narrative of the dial-painter litigation. The second section identifies and explores the medical, legal, and sociological reasons why so few cases entered the legal system. In the third section, we will examine the legal doctrines that governed the workers' claims against USRC. In the final section, we will examine how the basic "architecture of the legal system" presented conditions that dramatically affected the chances of success and recovery of the few claimants who entered the legal system and allowed powerful defendants to fashion to their benefit the overall course and outcome of the litigation.

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