Defense verdict reached in Madison County weld trial

Steve Gonzalez Nov. 15, 2006, 9:02am

Jeff Hebrank

Pat Gloor

Stephen Ellenbecker

Daniel Stack

After deliberating several hours a Madison County jury reached a defense verdict, ruling that Michael Haskell's Parkinson's disease was not caused by manganese-containing welding fumes.

Seeking $7.7 million dollars, Michael Haskell of Forsythe, Ill. filed suit against ESAB Group, the BOC Group and Lincoln Electric on Oct. 15, 2004, claiming his exposure to manganese-containing welding products caused him to suffer neurological injuries, including Parkinson's disease.

The trial began Oct. 12, with Circuit Judge Daniel Stack presiding.

Haskell, represented by Robert Bosslet of Granite City, claimed the defendants were negligent and liable for failing to warn him of manganese exposure and liable for not providing fume extraction systems in the workplace.

Bosslet argued that the defendants should have known of the inherent health hazards of the products they sold, distributed or used.

He also argued that manganese exposure for a period as short as 49 days can cause neurological damage.

John Beisner, an attorney for several current and former welding rod manufacturers said, "We are extremely pleased that the jury unanimously found that welding rod manufacturers are not responsible for the plaintiff's ailments."

"This is the second Madison County jury to return a defense verdict in the last 12 months," he said. "The plaintiffs are simply not able to persuade juries with their claims, as evidenced by the fact that juries have returned defense verdicts in 13 of 14 such trials held."

Last December, after deliberating two hours, a Madison County jury ruled in favor of the defense in a Cape Girardeau man's weld rod trial that lasted a month.

In that case welder Steve Boren alleged he suffered neurological injuries after being exposed to manganese-containing welding fumes. He was seeking close to $7 million in damages.

"The bottom line is the welding rod manufacturers have always acted responsibly on behalf of welders and these defendants are being unfairly targeted in these suits," Beisner said.

"As this welding fume litigation has progressed, it has become abundantly clear that there is little real substance behind the rhetoric," Beisner said.

"In the last year, plaintiffs' counsel have dismissed thousands of their cases, served discovery responses in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) proceeding acknowledging that 40 percent of their clients were never diagnosed with any neurological condition, and have otherwise admitted that 70 percent of the allegedly sick claimants have never sought medical treatment," Beisner added.

He said even more troublesome is that a number of plaintiffs across the country have misrepresented their symptoms and medical backgrounds. Beisner cited cases where plaintiffs were forced to drop three of their first five hand-picked federal court trial candidates after it was revealed that one had dramatically exaggerated his symptoms and two others lied about illegal drug use.

"Unfortunately, rather then being aberrations, these claims appear to be representative of many of the other claims in this litigation," Beisner said.

"There is also a rapidly growing body of sound science rejecting plaintiff's claims," he said. "The most reliable and comprehensive epidemiological studies to be done on this issue continue to show no association between welding and neurological disorders."

"With both science and the facts on its side, the welding defendants will continue to vigorously defend themselves against these baseless claims," Beisner said.

Beisner called on plaintiffs' attorneys to "stop wasting the time and resources of the judicial system." But his message apparently fell on deaf ears as attorneys from the Goldenberg firm in Edwardsville filed another weld rod lawsuit against the same defendants in Madison County.

Attorneys Keith Short and Holly Reese filed the new suit on behalf of Dan Rill of Macoupin County who claims he was exposed to neurotoxic and toxic fumed while welding in Madison County and other locations.

In December 2005, the 5th Appellate Court upheld a $1 million Madison County jury verdict in favor of a Collinsville man's claim that manganese in welding rods caused his Parkinson's disease.

That 2003 verdict is the only successful welding rod trial ever litigated in the United States. Larry Elam filed suit against Lincoln Electric, Hobart Brothers and The BOC Group in July 2001 claiming the defendants were negligent in failing to investigate welding health hazards and providing adequate warnings.

He also claimed they should be held strictly liable because of lack of investigation and adequate warnings.

After a four-week trial, presiding Associate Judge Ralph Mendelsohn reduced the $1 million award to $925,000 because of a prior settlement made by Elam.

Though the recent jury did not give Haskell any money for his injuries, Bosslet negotiated a $200,000 settlement with other defendants prior to trial.

Jeff Hebrank of the Hepler law firm in Edwardsville represented the defendants in Haskell's case. Chicago attorneys Pat Gloor and Stephen P. Ellenbecker of The Gloor Law Group also were members of the defense team.

Hebrank did not have time to celebrate the verdict as he is also the defense attorney in an asbestos trial beginning across the hall in Judge Mendelsohn's courtroom.

Shortly after the Haskell trial, a jury in Galveston, Texas also returned a defense verdict after a two-week trial in Galveston County.

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