Madison County asbestos trial marks fifth defense verdict in a row

Steve Gonzalez and Ann Knef Dec. 18, 2007, 9:00am

Randy Gori

Without calling one single witness to testify in its defense during a rare Madison County asbestos trial, NL Industries was granted a defense verdict Dec. 14.

In less than two hours, jurors rejected a claim brought by plaintiff Harry Glass, who had asked for $6,035,000 to compensate him for the asbestos exposure and fatal illness suffered by his wife, Mary Glass. He claimed she was exposed to asbestos dust he brought home from work decades ago at a Granite City lead plant.

It is the fifth asbestos defense verdict reached in a row by Madison County jurors dating back to 2005.

Glass worked from 1952 to 1978 at National Lead, a predecessor of NL Industries. National Lead closed down in 1979. Glass claimed that the dust on his clothes led to his wife's mesothelioma which caused her death in 2004.

NL Industries, represented by Joe Vallort and Chauncey Cassidy of Chilton Yambert Porter & Young in Chicago, not only chose not to call any witnesses at trial, it admitted only one exhibit and never retained an expert through the course of litigation.

According to Vallort, a strategic decision was made well before trial that Glass's case involved relatively straight forward concepts and evidence which did not require expert testimony.

When asked for comment, one of the jurors responded that she thought it was "odd" that NL Industries didn't call any witnesses.

"But (National Lead) has been out of business for 30 years," said Marcella Steiner of Highland.

She went on to say she was not convinced that NL Industries should be held liable for Mary Glass's illness.

"There could have been others (companies)," she said. "It was not proven that (NL Industries) was the only source."

Juror Betty Youngman of Collinsville echoed Steiner's comments. She said, "Back at that time nobody knew about asbestos. How can you blame someone if nobody knew?"

Glass's team of lawyers -- including Christian Hartley of Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman, LLC in Charleston, S.C. and Randy Gori and Allyson Romani of Goldenberg Heller Antognoli Rowland Short & Gori, P.C. in Edwardsville -- argued that the hazards of secondary asbestos exposure were well known at least by the 1960s and that National Lead made no effort to limit asbestos exposure to its employees during the time Harry Glass worked at the plant.

They also argued that the dangers of take-home lead dust were known in the first half of the 20th Century and that had National Lead taken any steps to limit secondary lead exposure like showers, changing rooms, and separate lockers as well as warning the employees, that the asbestos secondary exposure could have been prevented.

According to Glass, the products he worked with included generic pipe covering and block insulation, muds and cements, asbestos rope, asbestos cloth, asbestos seals, asbestos blankets, gummites, refractory materials and bricks, asbestos gloves and apparel, gaskets and packing, asbestos cement board, and pipe and friction materials.

NL Industries argued that if the hazards of secondary asbestos exposure were so well known, then why was research on that topic continuing into the 1990s?

NL Industries also argued that the risks of secondary exposure to asbestos were not well known during Mr. Glass's career and therefore, National Lead did not have to take the steps listed by plaintiff's expert.

Associate Judge Tom Chapman presided over the Glass trial.

In October, NL Industries was granted a defense verdict in another case that dealt with secondary asbestos exposure.

Represented by Ted Gianaris of SimmonsCooper, John Larson, a living mesothelioma victim, argued that his father would bring asbestos dust home on his clothes after which time it would again become airborne.

Gianaris asked the jury to award his client between $6 million and $29 million.

Larson claimed he was repeatedly exposed to asbestos dust from his father's clothing and person.

Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison presided over Larson's five-day trial.

In the Larsen case, the case was tried under Missouri law. That allowed NL Industries to introduce evidence of other exposure which occurred during Larsen's work history.

However, the Glass case was tried using Illinois law which invokes the Lipke Rule.

"Lipke" bars evidence that a plaintiff might have other possible sources of exposure. Evidence that Mary Glass may have been exposed from her own work career, or from asbestos furnace insulation installed by Harry Glass at the family residence, could not be introduced at trial.

Asbestos trials in Madison County

Asbestos cases rarely go to trial. In Madison County they have normally settled out of court for millions of dollars.

On March 2, 2006, 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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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