Defense wraps up case in benzene trial, closing arguments Monday
Experts testified Friday on workplace safety guidelines and warning labels as defendant 3M wrapped up its case in a Madison County trial over benzene exposure.
California-based workplace safety expert Stephen Davis told jurors he could not find that the plaintiff's benzene exposure exceeded safe levels.
3M's last witness, Timothy Rhoades of Ann Arbor, Mich., testified that the company's warning labels were adequate and that plaintiff Veto Kleinaitis did not follow safety procedures or read warning labels.
Closing arguments will take place Monday beginning at 9 a.m.
Kleinaitis, an aircraft mechanic who worked in Bethalto and lives in Belleville, claims that traces of benzene found in 3M's products such as Top and Trim led him to develop mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) in 2005.
The disease is part of the family of Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.
His suit seeks more than $1 million damages.
3M claims that their products had nothing to do with Kleinaitis' disease and that the products' levels of benzene were below the legal limits.
3M points to Kleinaitis's history of smoking and other sources of possible benzene exposures as the source of the cancer.
The Kleinaitis case is one of 17 benzene suits filed by the SimmonsCooper law firm of East Alton between 2004 and 2006.
The case is one of the few of that batch that remains active.
Originally, Kleinaitis named more than 20 defendants in the suit.
All but 3M dropped out of the suit or settled.
A claim for loss of consortium filed by Brenda Kleinaits was dismissed shortly before the trial opened.
Davis testified in his analyses of 3M's products and the related testing documentation that none of the products came close to the overexposure mark set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Davis detailed his findings in an information graphic shown to jurors that showed, at maximum levels, 3M products contained levels of benzene less than the safe exposure point.
Top and Trim, according to Davis' graphic, contained at maximum four times less than the safe exposure mark.
Davis testified that 3M's requirements that its raw materials be tested by their makers is an industry standard.
"You control that process on the front end," Davis said.
In his cross examination of Davis, plaintiff attorney William Kohlburn took issue at several points with the informational graphic that the defense used during Davis's testimony.
Kohlburn asked Davis to explain several points, particularly those related to the NIOSH study conducted at Ogden Aviation in St. Louis.
For one, Kohlburn pointed out, the study did not look at aircraft mechanics like his client but at mechanics working on Ogden's equipment.
Davis testified that the study was used for comparison but that it was not a spot-on match to Kleinaitis's situation.
"Is there always a precise alignment . . . with the question at hand?" Davis replied. "No."
He said he used the Ogden study because of the similarity of workplace and geography to Kleinaitis's background.
Kohlburn questioned Davis further about the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Ogden study's recommendation that workers be exposed to a lower dose of benzene than OSHA recommends.
The questioning continued as to the benzene levels contained in 3M's products and what testing it undertook.
The company has maintained throughout the trial that the raw ingredients used for its products are tested by their makers before they become part of any 3M product.
Davis pointed to that front end testing, discussing it in terms of a cake's ingredients.
"But if you're in the kitchen making a cake, you've got your hands on the stuff," Kohlburn said. "You're not relying on a piece of paper."
"You don't get a certificate of analysis with every dozen eggs," Davis replied.
Rhoades's testimony included excerpts from safety tests Kleinaitis took at various workplaces.
Those tests indicated that Kleinaitis answered questions about safety correctly, even though the plaintiff admitted in depositions and his live testimony that he did not always follow protocols or warning labels.
"You can't very well follow the warning you don't even read," Rhoades said. "I can't read his mind as to how well he understood it or the [safety] test."
The jury was excused just prior to 2:30 p.m.
Kleinaitis is represented by Kohlburn and others.
Amanda Cialkowski of Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis and others represent 3M.
Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis presides.
The suit's trial began Aug. 17. By Monday, the trial will have spanned into three weeks.
The case is Madison case number 05-L-1050.
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Maplewood, MN 55119