Asbestos trial ends with victories for defense and plaintiff

Ann Knef Aug. 21, 2009, 3:28am


SPRINGFIELD - A three-and-a-half week long asbestos trial ended in a defense verdict Aug. 13 for Georgia Pacific, according to its defense firm HeplerBroom in Edwardsville.

But a Sangamon County jury did award 69-year-old plaintiff William Willis -- a former Springfield postal worker and part-time handyman -- $2 million against Bondex International, over its asbestos-containing joint compound.

Willis sued in 2007 in Sangamon Circuit Court, claiming he was dying from mesothelioma. Willis was a full-time postal worker, but claimed that he did odd jobs over a number of years relating to roofing, siding and the use of drywall joint compounds.

At trial, Willis maintained that he used Georgia-Pacific joint compound while doing residential renovations from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s.

Georgia-Pacific, one of three defendants to go to trial, raised a number of defenses and called a number of nationally recognized experts to testify, according to a release from HeplerBroom.

Industrial hygienist Morton Corn testified on the state of scientific and medical literature in the 1960s and '70s and concluded that Georgia-Pacific's conduct was reasonable based on the state of that knowledge.

Pathologist Mark Wick, M.D. and pulmonologist Gerald Kerby, M.D. testified that Willis' death was either idiopathic or due to amphibole asbestos exposure for work he had done as a teenager working for his father on boiler tear outs.

Industrial hygienist Kim Anderson approximated the minimal exposure Willis would have had based on his claims of drywall joint compound work. Anderson testified that it was far less than an individual walking down the street would have received in a lifetime of background exposure.

The jury found Bondex alone liable and awarded Willis $1.5 million in damages and his wife, Sharon Willis, $500,000 for loss of consortium.

But the jury award is subject to a reduction of $1.4 million due to prior settlements.

The jury found co-defendants CertainTeed and Georgia-Pacific not to be negligent.

Willis was represented by Davis Law Offices in Springfield.

Georgia Pacific was represented by Jeff Hebrank and Brian Huelsmann of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville, along with Michael Drumke of the firm's Chicago office and Steve Kaufmann of its Springfield office.

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