Jurors award $500k in Madison County asbestos trial

Steve Gonzalez May 19, 2005, 6:42am

Jeff Hebrank

Mark Phillips

After deliberating nearly nine hours over two days, Madison County jurors found in favor of Willard King and awarded him and his wife a relatively paltry sum of $500,000.

King, 78, of Fenton, Mo., blamed Bondex and Georgia-Pacific, for his deadly asbestos-related illness. He claimed he was contaminated from working on a home remodeling project in the early 1970s.

Georgia-Pacific was found not be at fault in the case.

“We thank the jurors for listening to the facts in the case,” said Robin Keegan, spokesperson for Georgia-Pacific in Atlanta.

Asbestos cases rarely go to trial. They normally settle out of court for millions of dollars.

“It was the most difficult decision in my life,” said a female juror who did not want to be identified. The juror also told The Record that at the end Wednesday's late-night deliberation she thought there would be no award of any kind.

But, after sleeping on it the jury looked at the evidence again, she said.

“Almost from the get-go it was obvious Georgia-Pacific was not at fault,” the juror said.

“Mr. King in his own words said he never used a product made by Georgia-Pacific. Why they were even in this case still makes me wonder.”

A disappointed plaintiff attorney Troyce Wolf of Texas said that even thought the verdict was not what he expected, he still has confidence in the jury system.

“These jurors sure did work hard in this case," Wolf said. "I am confident they felt they made the proper decision.”

Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League said the verdict could signal a "new day" for Madison County's civil justice system.

"It is encouraging that the jury listened to the facts of the case and reached what appears to be a fair conclusion," Murnane said.

"It can help change the perception of Madison County's judicial system to one in which jurors and judges are fair to both sides. But one fair verdict is not enough; all verdicts must be fair to both plaintiff and defendant."

Represented by Wolf and Barry Julian of Alton, King was diagnosed with mesothelioma on May 5, 2004.

Bondex and Georgia Pacific were represented by Jeff Hebrank of the Burroughs Firm in Edwardsville. Mark Phillips of Nelson Mullins in Columbia, S.C. assisted Hebrank with the Georgia-Pacific defense, and John Wendler, also of Burroughs, assisted with the Bondex defense.

The jurors awarded the following damages for Willard King:

  • Loss of a normal life $59,600
  • Pain and Suffering $59,600
  • Emotional Distress $59,600
  • Medical Care and expenses $202,000

    Grand Total: $380,800

    To Elizabeth King:

  • Loss of services $59,600
  • Loss of companionship $59,600

    Grand Total: $119,200

    The trial, the first in almost two years in Madison County, was the first for Circuit Judge Daniel Stack since taking over the large docket from Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron last fall.

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