Jury reaches verdict in favor of General Electric

Steve Gonzalez Jun. 3, 2005, 12:30pm

John Fitzpatrick

Judge Daniel Stack

It took a Madison County jury less than 20 minutes Friday afternoon to rule in favor of defendant General Electric in an eight-day asbestos trial which was almost cut short by the presiding judge for its "weak" evidence.

When the trial began May 24, GE and John Crane stood accused of exposing plaintiff Jane Gudmundson's late husband Harvey Gudmundson to asbestos while he served on the U.S.S. Bausell--a navy destroyer--during the Korean War in the early 1950s.

Gudmundson alleged that GE's asbestos-insulated steam turbines in the Bausell caused her husband’s mesothelioma.

Tension in the packed courtroom during the trial's sixth day peaked when Circuit Judge Daniel Stack ruled in favor of John Crane's motion for a directed verdict--which dismissed them from the case--but denied GE's motion for a directed verdict.

"The evidence is weak," Stack said in the crowded third-floor courtroom. “I think I have to deny (GE's) motion (for directed verdict), but this is as close as I have ever come.”

GE attorney John Fitzpatrick of Leclair Ryan in Richmond, Va., demanded a mistrial, claiming John Crane filed its motion for the directed verdict after plaintiff's attorney David Greenstone rested his case.

An emphatic Fitzpatrick claimed that Greenstone made a deal with John Crane not to present any evidence against John Crane.

He argued that no evidence was entered against John Crane nor were any witnesses listed. Fitzpatrick called the practice “highly suspect.”

Greenstone responded that to accuse someone of fraud in open court is a “slanderous allegation.”

Before May, there had not been a Madison County asbestos trial in nearly two years.

A recent verdict handed down by a Madison County jury May 19 ordered Bondex International to pay Willard King and his wife Elizabeth a relatively light judgment of $500,000. King was diagnosed with mesothelioma on May 5, 2004, and claimed he was contaminated from working on a home remodeling project in the early 1970s.

Harvey Gudmundson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2002, and died in February 2003 due to complications from the disease. The suit was filed in April 2003.

In third day of Gudmundson's trial, defendants Warren Pumps and IMO settled and were dismissed.

Gudmundson also is represented by Barry Julian of Alton. Greenstone is from Dallas.

General Electric also is represented by Ronald Flack of Gallop, Johnson & Neumann of St. Louis and Myra Eaton.

The plaintiffs have called the same experts in the case as in the King trial--Arnold Brody, Ph.D. of Tulane University and Eugene Mark, M.D. of Harvard University.

Frank Parker, an industrial hygienist, and O.W. Forrest, a naval friend who also served on the Bausell, have testified in the trial for the plaintiff.

On Jan. 26, GE attorneys tried to convince Stack to transfer the case to Cook County where Gudmundson now lives telling Stack, "You have an obligation to transfer this case as it burdens this county since there is no exposure alleged here."

Julian countered that the motion was nothing more than a stall tactic as the case was originally set for trial in early February. Stack agreed that it was too close to trial to transfer the case, but noted if it was filed earlier in the case, he would have likely transferred the case.

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