Honeywell loses Bloomington asbestos trial before it starts; Jurors award $4.3 million

Steve Korris Apr. 8, 2011, 5:41pm


BLOOMINGTON – Rather than run an asbestos conspiracy trial against Honeywell International, McLean County Circuit Judge Paul Lawrence on April 7 directed a verdict for the plaintiff, sending jurors out to award damages the following day.

Jurors ruled on Friday that Honeywell owed Vickie Hoogerwerf $2,950,000 for the wrongful death of husband John Hoogerwerf, $1,070,000 for his expenses, and $300,000 for her losses.

Honeywell lost the trial before it began by informing Lawrence that consultant Joel Charm would not testify.

On April 4, first day of trial, Honeywell lawyer Gary Zimmerman of Chicago told Lawrence he asked Charm to testify but couldn't make him.

Lawrence said, "He needs to terminate his relationship with Honeywell."

Charm, a former Allied Signal hygienist, has testified at 22 trials in Bloomington.

Though he works for Honeywell, his testimony has helped plaintiff lawyers James Wylder and Lisa Corwin advance their conspiracy theory.

Wylder and Corwin brand Honeywell as a conspirator for buying Allied Signal, which bought brake maker Bendix, which allegedly conspired to hide the hazards of asbestos.

Local judges order Honeywell to produce witnesses for testimony about events that happened prior to Honeywell's ownership and events 60 years before that.

Wylder and Corwin pin deeds of the dead on the living, and big verdicts usually follow.

Honeywell has tried for years to keep Charm and other employees away from McLean County jurors, with scant success.

Over objections, chief executive David Cote has testified five times, and others have testified 19, five and three times.

Charm apparently wearied of his role.

"Charm has unequivocally stated he will terminate his contract with Honeywell rather than be obligated to travel any significant distance to testify, including being obliged to travel to Illinois to testify," Zimmerman wrote to Lawrence on April 4.

He wrote that Charm's contract changed last year, to provide that he wouldn't travel more than 100 miles from his home in New Jersey.

He wrote that Wylder and Corwin could use transcripts from previous trials.

In court with Zimmerman and Lawrence, Wylder said no one knows more about liability and causation than Charm.

"The request is that their answer be stricken, judgment by default be entered on the issues of liability and causation, and the jury be left to make an assessment of damages," Wylder said.

Zimmerman said he'd make Charm available if he could.

Lawrence said, "Is that something you could have foreseen when you entered into this new contract with him?"

Zimmerman said they were aware it meant they would no longer be able to produce him.

"The majority of his travel to testify over the last five and a half years has been to this court," Zimmerman said.

Wylder said, "He still is their corporate representative.

"They should have said, Joel, we can't agree with this."

Zimmerman said, "He has expressed the view that if he has to come back to testify in another case, he will terminate his services to us before he does that.

"This is not a situation where Honeywell made the strategic decision that we don't like what Mr. Charm had to say.

"If we were going to make that decision, your honor, we would have done it long ago before we went through 22 trials.

"I personally spoke to Joel and asked him to come to Illinois.

"Mr. Charm, in no uncertain terms, said no, he will not come."

Lawrence said, "I feel for the guy. He's getting older.

"He testified in front of me in the Shipley case.

"Seems like a very nice gentleman.

"He obviously knows a lot about the topic at hand here, and I feel for him.

"But what he arranged is not sufficient.

"If he wants to no longer be able to be brought in under 237 B, then he needs to terminate his relationship with Honeywell.

"The court certainly does not want to default Honeywell."

Lawrence did it anyway.

"I want to have Mr. Charm here testifying like he has done in all of the other trials, and I think obviously that would be the much preferable way to conduct this trial, but if that can't happen, then this is what the court has to do," Lawrence said.

Wylder said, "You said that you find them in default. That means you are entering judgment by default on liability and causation."

Lawrence said, "Correct."

A quick trial on damages followed, with Wylder asking for about $7 million and jurors awarding $4,320,000.

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