Jackpot denied

The Madison County Record Oct. 14, 2007, 8:00am

Local asbestos lawyer extraordinaire Ted Gianaris asked a Madison County jury for an incredible $29 million last week.

He didn't get it.

He didn't deserve it.

Jurors didn't buy Gianaris' argument, that Texas-based NL Industries is responsible for plaintiff John Larson's recently contracting a rare cancer called mesothelioma.

As a young child many decades ago, Gianaris explained, Mr. Larson was exposed to his father's work clothes and inhaled asbestos dust, which can cause the disease. Dad worked for National Lead, which used asbestos to insulate lead piping. NL Industries bought National Lead in 1971. Alas, it should pay $29 million, including $10 million or so in fees to Gianaris, all in the name of justice.

It's sad to say, but logic this tortured appears quite frequently at the Madison County courthouse. Lawyers like Gianaris, angling against businesses any way they can to squeeze themselves a payday, are known to serve up some seriously serpentine stories with straight faces in order to "prove" corporate culpability.

Having put most every U.S. asbestos maker and supplier into bankruptcy, "second hand" exposure lawsuits like this one represent the latest jackpot justice trend. Their goal: extend the asbestos gravy train, enabling lawyers like Gianaris to target any and every industrial employer under the sun.

In less forgiving venues, thankfully, these "secondhand" cases would be laughed out of the courtroom (or worse) for representing raw speculation as fact.

Gianaris, for instance, assured the jury that Larson got cancer by inhaling asbestos. While this is certainly possible-- asbestos can cause mesothelioma-- the disease has a myriad of other causes, too. They're casually dismissed, of course, as they aren't "actionable."

The SimmonsCooper partner also promised he knew it was asbestos provided by a particular company, National Lead, that Larson inhaled. That's even though asbestos is used still today in thousands of products; his client could have encountered it anywhere, in many ways over his lifetime.

The only constant in Gianaris' logic was his big game target. Somebody big and rugged-sounding had to pay, and he had decided it would be NL Industries. That's if only because the company was identifiable and meaty enough to make this plaintiff's plight worth his lawyers' while.

No matter this time. Madison County is finally getting the point.

Those suffering among us-- like John Larson-- deserve our sympathy. But it mustn't always come accompanied by a big dollar blame game.

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