Defense in comfortable posture as next asbestos trial approaches

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 9, 2006, 10:03am

Circuit Judge Dan Stack

On the heels of another recent defense victory in Madison County's crowded asbestos docket, mesothelioma sufferer Ronald Thompson is set to take on giants Ford, General Motors and Midas.

Thompson, who filed his case on April 29, 2005, is represented by Andrew O'Brien of St. Louis.

Opening arguments are set to begin late Thursday or Friday morning, following jury selection which began on Monday.

Circuit Judge Daniel Stack will preside over the trial which is expected to last nearly two weeks.

He claimed the defendants knew or should have known that the asbestos fibers contained in their products had a toxic, poisonous and highly deleterious effect upon the health of persons inhaling, ingesting or otherwise absorbing them.

Bondex International was dismissed from the suit early Thursday morning.

Manny Sanchez, Tim Hoffman and Joe Sullivan of Chicago represent Ford and GM while Keith Witson also of Chicago, represents Midas.

During the past year, three asbestos cases filed by out-of-the-area plaintiffs have made it to trial in Circuit Judge Dan Stack's courtroom.

  • On March 2, Bondex International and Georgia-Pacific were found not to be at fault in causing 84-year-old Anita O'Connell's mesothelioma.

    She claimed she was exposed to asbestos while washing her husband's work clothes between 1966 and 1970.

    O'Connell, of Burbank, Ill., claimed Bondex International and Georgia-Pacific were negligent for injuries she received from asbestos fibers that became airborne while she shook out her husband's work clothes.

    The jury rejected that claim in five-and-a-half hours.

  • Willard King, age 77, of Fenton, Mo., blamed Bondex, Georgia Pacific, John Crane, RPM Inc. and Lynn Tractor and Equipment Company for his deadly asbestos-related illness. He claims he was contaminated from working on farm equipment and cars from 1950 through 1987.

    On May 19, 2005, 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.

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

    That amount was reduced to almost nothing because the Kings had received settlements prior to taking on the defendants and those amounts reduced the verdict.

  • On May 26, 2005, Jane Gudmundson claimed her late husband Harvey Gudmundson was exposed to asbestos while serving on the U.S.S. Bausell--a navy destroyer during the Korean War in the early 1950s during her asbestos trial.

    Gudmundson, of Cook County, Ill., alleged that the General Electric asbestos-insulated steam turbines in the Bausell caused her husband's mesothelioma.

    However, it took a Madison County jury less than 20 minutes 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.

    Prior to those trials, Madison County jurors awarded millions of dollars to sick plaintiffs suffering from mesothelioma.

    One defense lawyer who asked not to be identified said, "My clients do not want to settle some of these cases anymore like the old days when large verdicts almost tied their hands and forced them to settle even though we know our products didn't cause the illness.

    "...It seems like juries demand good solid evidence now due to television shows like CSI, and not general studies and evidence that says asbestos in general is bad."

    Three trials held in Madison County between 2000 and 2003 resulted in verdicts of $16 million, $34 million and a whopping $250 million.

    In April 2003, a Madison County jury ordered US Steel to pay Roby Whittington of Indiana $250 million for his asbestos-related illness. The case settled for much less following the trial.

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