Defendants face short trial prep in McLean County

Steve Korris May 27, 2010, 8:37am



BLOOMINGTON- Eleven days before an asbestos trial, McLean County Circuit Judge Michael Prall granted an oral motion to conduct a joint trial for a former teacher from Bloomington and a former firefighter from Springfield.

Honeywell, Pneumo Abex and Owens Illinois opposed consolidation at a May 27 hearing. Their written motions and oral argument didn't change Prall's plan.

Prall said that 80 cases were pending. "If we try them all individually it will take forever," he said.

Defendants moved to continue both cases and Prall denied the motion.

Prall and Circuit Judge Scott Drazewski preside over one of the busier asbestos dockets in the nation.

While judges with bigger asbestos caseloads often leave lawyers to settle behind the scenes, Prall and Drazewski push their cases to trial.

Bloomington's top asbestos lawyer James Wylder concentrates more on claims of conspiracy to conceal the dangers of asbestos than on claims of direct exposure.

At Prall's hearing, Wylder said plaintiffs Norman Shoopman and Larry Dunham both suffer from mesothelioma.

He said both alleged conspiracy and exposure.

He said Dunham was a firefighter in Springfield and Shoopman was a teacher in Bloomington.

"I m not sure either one is going to make August 1," Wylder said.

Pneumo Abex lawyer Raymond Modessit said consolidation would confuse a jury. He said his client is a product liability defendant in one suit but not the other.

For Owens Illinois, Matt Fischer objected to not having a written motion.

Wylder responded that the court has held trials for seven, five and 18. He said in a case with three plaintiffs, jurors awarded different damages to all three. He said exposure claims would be minor compared to conspiracy claims.

Prall said, "My experience has been that at least 80 percent of these cases are spent on conspiracy."

During argument on continuing the trial, Wylder said he amended the complaint to allege exposure through 1979.

Modessit said he limited to 1979, but evidence would show that exposure continued through 1994. He said the only reason to cut it back to 1979 was because Medicare could not place a lien on the proceeds.

He said Medicare has hired lawyers to go after plaintiff lawyers who didn't protect the United States.

For Honeywell, Luke Mangan said plaintiffs could have been exposed in 1985.

"Just because he doesn't allege it doesn't mean it couldn't have happened," Mangan said.

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