Scientist for plaintiff in benzene trial fails to link cancer to 3M

Amelia Flood Aug. 19, 2010, 7:42am



A Boston pathologist testified Thursday morning in Madison County Circuit Court that benzene exposure led to plaintiff Veto Kleinaitis's mantle cell lymphoma.

But, the scientist - Dr. Lawrence Zukerberg - could not conclude that defendant 3M's products were to blame.

Kleinaitis is suing the Minnesota-based company for allegedly using benzene containing materials in its glues and solvent products and thus allowing him to be exposed to benzene through his work with the products as an aircraft mechanic in Bethalto.

During opening statements on Wednesday, plaintiff's attorney William Kohlburn of the Simmons firm told jurors his client would be seeking more than $890,000 in lost future wages and more than $370,000 in past medical bills.

3M denies that any of its products could have caused Kleinaitis's condition.

According to his fourth amended complaint, Kleinaitis was diagnosed with the cancer in 2005.

He claims 3M knowingly used raw materials contaminated with benzene and willfully and wantonly sold them, thereby exposing him.

Kleinaitis's suit is one of 17 benzene cases filed between 2004 and 2006 by the SimmonsCooper law firm of East Alton. The firm has since been renamed.

The case is one of a few suits from that batch that is still on-going.

Originally, Kleinaitis's case named more than a dozen adhesive and solvent making companies as defendants.

Various defendants settled as the five year-old suit progressed, leaving 3M alone at trial.

Just prior to Thursday's lunch hour, defense attorney Amanda Cialkowski cross-examined Zukerberg about how he came to his opinion that benzene caused Kleinaitis's cancer.

Cialkowski is with the Nilan Johnson Lewis law firm in Minneapolis.

During the cross examination, Zukerberg acknowledged he knew of no studies that linked benzene specifically to Kleinaitis's type of non-hodgkin's lymphoma and that he had not personally tested 3M's products for benzene levels.

Zukerberg acknowledged he could not say specifically if any benzene found in 3M's products could be linked to Kleinaitis's cancer, only that benzene in general was the cause.

In opening statements, Kohlburn admitted to jurors that his client had been exposed to benzene through sources other than through 3M's products.

However, Kohlburn told jurors, his client's case would show that 3M's products had contributed to Kleinaitis's overall benzene exposure and that they knowingly included benzene in their adhesives and other products.

Cialkowski, speaking for the defense, told jurors during her opening that "3M played by the rules."

She told jurors the company did not use benzene in its products and that it required its suppliers to certify that the raw materials they sold to 3M met safe levels for benzene traces.

Cialkowski reminded jurors that the general population is exposed to benzene daily and that traces of it are found in common foods like apples.

The trial opened Tuesday with a day-long voir dire that continued into Wednesday morning.

Kleinaitis is also represented by Ted Gianaris with the Simmons firm in East Alton.

3M is also represented by Sandra Wunderlich of Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP in St. Louis, and others.

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis presides.

The case is Madison case number 05-L-1050.

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