Testimony challenged in Madison County's first asbestos trial in two years

Steve Gonzalez May 10, 2005, 11:41am

Jeffrey Hebrank

Mark Phillips

In the third day of Madison County's first asbestos trial in two years, an expert from Tulane University testified that he believes chrysotile asbestos causes mesothelioma.

Arnold Brody, M.D., vice chairman of the university's Pathology Department, helped bolster the case for Willard King, a 77-year-old plaintiff from Arnold, Mo. who suffers from the deadly lung disease. Among hundreds of defendants being sued, Georgia-Pacific Corp., Bondex, Lynn Tractor, RPM Inc. and John Crane were singled out for a trial which is expected to conclude by next Wednesday.

Defense attorney Mark Phillips of Nelson Mullins in Columbia, S.C., attempted to discredit Brody by pointing out that Brody makes $400 an hour and approximately $100,000 a year testifying in asbestos cases.

Earlier in the week attorneys for Georgia-Pacific and Bondex--accused of manufacturing the product that caused King to become ill--picked apart the testimony of his daughter, Kathy McClelland, 55, also of Fenton.

McClelland testified Tuesday that she remembered buying Georgia-Pacific and Bondex joint compound for her father who was involved in a home remodeling project in the early 1970s from a now defunct Central Hardware store.

King claims his asbestos exposure came during the home project in the early 1970s. But in an earlier interrogatory, King stated that the project was done in 1973 or 1974.

The asbestos trial is the first since the record-breaking $250 million verdict against US Steel in 2003.

After describing what her father and family experienced since King was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2004, lead defense counsel Jeffrey Hebrank of the Burroughs firm in Edwardsville tested the veracity of McClelland's memory during cross examination.

McClelland stated that she would visit her dad after picking up her kids from school.

Hebrank pointed out that her oldest child would have been three in 1970. After writing down their ages on paper Hebrank asked if the project could have started in 1973 when her oldest child was six.

“The (home remodeling) project went on for years,” McClelland testified, not directly answering Hebrank's question.

McClelland, who worked as a legal secretary at the time of the home remodeling project, also testified that she remembered that the joint compound she bought was made by Bondex and Georgia-Pacific.

"You have a pretty vivid recollection of the joint compound but you have no recollection of what type of drywall, screws, nails, or anything else?" Hebrank asked her.

"Correct," McClelland responded.

"Could the joint compound have contained a warning label on it which would explain why your dad wore a mask," Hebrank also asked.

McClelland replied, "yes."

Mark Phillips co-counsel for Georgia-Pacific then took over cross examination and asked McClelland if she believed her father to be a honest man.

"Yes," she answered.

At that point Phillips read a portion of her father's deposition in which he said under oath that he never used a Georgia-Pacific product.

McClelland responded that she did not agree with him on that.

Phillips also said expert testimony indicated Central Hardware stores did not carry his clients' products.

"Would it surprise you that a buyer from Central Hardware testified that he did not believe that Central carried Geogia-Pacific products?" Phillips asked McClelland.

"I am surprised," she said.

"You can remember the joint compound, but you cannot remember the color of the container the compound came in," Phillips asked.

"It was 35 years ago," McClelland said after recalling the containers were a light color of "some kind."

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