Asbestos defense says there's no case during closing

Steve Gonzalez May 18, 2005, 5:19pm

Mark Phillips

Jeff Hebrank

John Wendler

"Use your good common sense," said Georgia-Pacific defense attorney Mark Phillips of Nelson Mullins of Columbia, S.C. during closing arguments in Madison County's first asbestos trial in two years.

"We want you to search for the truth," Phillips told the jury. "We want you to judge the facts of this case."

The jury deliberated late into Wednesday night without reaching a verdict in the week-long asbestos trial. Plaintiff Willard King, 78,of Fenton, Mo., claims his deadly lung disease, mesothelioma, was caused by exposure to a joint compound product produced by Georgia-Pacific and Bondex.

Phillips argued that King stated in a deposition that he never even used a Georgia-Pacific product. He also argued that the testimony of his wife, Elizabeth, was "all over the place."

"She could not remember the deatils on the bucket, she got the color wrong, and the material wrong," Phillips told the jurors.

"Don't let anyone insult your intelligence," he told the jurors when reminding them that King's daughter, Kathy McClelland, testified that she remembers buying the Georgia-Pacific joint compound from Central Hardware, but could not remember the type of paint or wallboard used.

In pointing out other descrepencies, Phillips told the jurors that King said in a deposition that he purchased the joint compound. But, he said, that testimony was directly contradicted by McClelland who said she purchased the joint compound.

Phillips said jurors should find in favor of Georgia-Pacific because his client warned all users, his client acted reasonably and that the plaintiff's own expert stated that short asbestos fibers--the kind found in the joint compound at issue--cannot cause mesothelioma.

Phillips reminded jurors that King, in his deposition, stated he wore a mask when sanding the joint compound.

John Wendler, who represents Bondex told the jurors not to leave their common sense at the door when they went to deliberate. He reminded them that Mrs. King stated in her deposition that Bondex products were in buckets, but during trial she said it was in a bag.

"A lot has changed since we hit the courtroom," Wendler said.

Lead defense attorney Jeff Hebrank told the jurors that this case was about money, not fairness.

"We are talking about getting rich," Hebrank said.

"$50 million dollars is too much even if Mark McGwire was dying with cancer," Hebrank said

"It never ceases to amaze me that people think they can walk into this courthouse and get a Madison County jury to award them $10 million with no proof," Hebrank said.

Hebrank told the jurors they have the right to be suspicious of expert medical witnesses from other parts of the country. "Why does it take a $5,000 a day witness, when we have brilliant doctors at Barnes Hospital," Hebrank asked.

Hebrank told them it was because nobody in St. Louis would say the things the experts did.

"If this case is as simple as Mr. Wolf tells you, why didn't he call Mr. King's own doctor," Hebrank asked.

"There is no proof, other than a lot of talk."

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