Batch of SimmonsCooper benzene suits shrinks to a few

Steve Korris Mar. 27, 2008, 5:00am

In six months, SimmonsCooper law firm of East Alton has distilled a batch of benzene exposure lawsuits down to a hard core.

Eight of 17 suits that the firm filed against 3M and other companies in Madison County from 2004 to 2006 have disappeared since October, with all defendants dismissed.

In three active suits, defendants have settled out in bunches this year.

One suit ended a year ago, ahead of the rest.

Two suits have stalled, one for a year and one for half a year.

That leaves three ready for trial, or at least it looked that way a few weeks ago.

SimmonsCooper expected to take a plaintiff to trial before Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder on March 10, but in February she pushed trial back to November.

That case shrank on March 24, when SimmonsCooper settled claims against 3M.

SimmonsCooper expected to take a plaintiff to trial before Circuit Judge Daniel Stack on March 17, but Stack stayed stuck in the Thompson Coburn malpractice trial.

As of March 24, Stack had not reset the benzene trial.

In another case, SimmonsCooper and defendants jointly postponed a March 3 trial before Stack after plaintiff Veto Kleinaitis amended his complaint.

Kleinaitis was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005, according to a third amended complaint that Ted Gianaris of SimmonsCooper filed Jan. 25.

Kleinaitis became aware that the disease was wrongfully caused by exposure to benzene and products containing benzene, Gianaris wrote.

Gianaris identified Kleinaitis as mechanic, inspector and supervisor at the regional airport in Bethalto.

He named 16 defendants, focusing on 3M with separate counts of strict liability, negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct.

3M sold masks and other protection devices that purportedly protected workers from mists, fumes and vapors, he wrote.

The masks and devices were defective and dangerous, he wrote because they provided inadequate protection while instilling a false sense of security.

"Defendant 3M is strictly liable for said defects," Gianaris wrote.

Punitive damages are appropriate and necessary, he wrote.

He seeks punitive damages against the other defendants as well.

"Defendants knew that their acts and omissions created a substantial risk that persons such as Plaintiff would suffer illness as a result and, therefore, carried out the same with complete indifference to, and/or conscious disregard for, the life, health and welfare of Plaintiff," he wrote.

The new complaint did not impress Kenneth Nussbaumer of Belleville, defense counsel for E.I. DuPont de Nemours.

He moved Feb. 25 to dismiss, arguing that Kleinaitis didn't specify any DuPont product to which he was allegedly exposed.

"Plaintiffs conclusorily assert that DuPont owed Mr. Kleinaitis a duty of care to protect him from the dangerous propensities and qualities of its benzene-containing products, but do not provide any facts to indicate how a duty of care to Mr. Kleinaitis arose on the part of DuPont," Nussbaumer wrote.

"Without identifying the product, chemical or circumstance that gave rise to a duty by DuPont to Mr. Kleinaitis, DuPont is incapable of knowing whether, in fact, it has breached a duty of care," he wrote.

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1007 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE 19899

3M Center
Maplewood, MN 55119

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