A Finding for Justice
She remembers everything coming to an inexplicable halt on a November morning when her
life was supposed to flow incredibly free.
She remembers bumping into the car in front of her in the passing lane of Route 2 near
Fitchburg, and cursing the havoc it would play with her insurance.
Then she remembers the explosion behind her, spinning around, the huge word ''Mack''
outside her shattered window, careening down the highway, sliding to a mangled rest.
And she remembers the moment when her back broke, the loss of feeling in her lower
extremities. Traffic had stopped because a discarded carpet was resting in the middle of the road,
and she was hit from behind by an 18-wheeler hauling a load of gravel that weighed in excess of
Alas, this isn't a tale of 39-year-old Mary Cooper's unimaginable misfortune or her paralysis
or her near-death experiences ever since. Rather, it's about the dogged gumshoe work of a lawyer
who couldn't make her healthy, but defied odds and made her rich.
Truth is, I like lawyers, for a couple of reasons. First off, by comparison, they make reporters
look like veritable saints. Second, whenever I'm feeling down, I'll give a lawyer friend a call. He'll
carp about the long hours, the work, the lack of appreciation. By the time I get off the phone I feel
like the king of Spain.
Then there's Peter Eleey of Quincy. Yes, he made a fortune, but he made Mary Cooper more
The police had given up on finding who had dropped the carpet. The gravel trucker's
insurance had agreed to pay Cooper money that probably would have been drained by her medical
Eleey came along with the theory that the 7x12-foot orange shag carpet must have fallen off a
trash-hauling truck, so he filed a suit and subpoenaed the records of the Fitchburg landfill located
three exits away.
He learned which trucks had been in that day, then subpoenaed the records from Waste
Management, the trash-hauling behemoth, of where its trucks had been prior to the crash.
He saw that one truck had stopped at a furniture store. Furniture stores sell carpets. When
carpets are installed, old carpets need to be thrown away.
He and a colleague visited the Gardner store, and immediately saw the sign, ''Rug
Department in Basement.'' They took note of the big Waste Management dumpster out back.
The nice furniture store employees gave them a list of the recent carpet installations, and
Eleey began knocking on doors. The first one he came to was that of a log cabin in the tiny town
of Templeton. The owner described his discarded rug as a burnt orange shag. Eleey opened up the
trunk of his car where he was storing the rug, and the witness said simply, ''It's mine.''
The homeowner gave him the name of the rug installer, who said he had taken the old rug
and thrown it into the furniture store dumpster. At that point, they knew where the rug originated,
the date it was removed, where it had been discarded, the exact time that it had been picked up by
the trash truck, the route of the truck down Route 2, and the time the truck arrived at the landfill.
Columbo isn't that good.
Waste Management offered a $50,000 settlement. Mary Cooper politely declined. During the
trial, company lawyers questioned the homeowner about how he could be so sure it was his rug. ''I
walked on it for 17 years,'' he replied. Last summer, a jury awarded Cooper $5.6 million, including
interest. A couple of weeks ago, motions for a new trial were denied.
''He worked magic,'' Cooper said of Eleey.
Cooper, a single mother from Shirley who before the crash was a paramedic, nursing student,
and firefighter, may never walk again. But she'll always know that someone was made to pay.
(Source: The Boston Globe, 2003-04-11)