Bethany Krajelis Feb. 12, 2013, 3:43pm

A defendant in a Madison County asbestos lawsuit has removed the matter to federal court.

United Technologies Corp. (UTC) on Friday filed notice to remove the suit that a Mississippi couple filed in November against it and 19 other defendants.

In their personal injury complaint, Walter and Ruby Leggett claim that Walter developed lung cancer as a result of his exposure to asbestos fibers from the defendants’ products while serving in the United States Air Force.

Walter was in the Air Force from 1957 to 1977 and was exposed to asbestos during his work as a mechanic, plumber, electrician, construction worker and machine operator, the suit states.

The Leggetts assert that they first became aware that Walter developed lung cancer in June 2011 and learned within the past two years that it was caused by asbestos exposure.

Among other claims, the suit accuses the defendants of failing to exercise care and caution for Walter’s safety by including asbestos in their products. It further asserts that the defendants knew or should have known about the dangers associated with asbestos.

The Leggetts seek more than $50,000 in their suit, which includes counts for negligence, willful and wanton conduct, conspiracy, negligent spoliation of evidence and strict liability.

UTC, which was served with the complaint on Jan. 11, removed the suit from Madison County to federal court based on the U.S. Code’s federal officer removal provision.

This provision allows parties to remove suits if they can prove they acted under the direction of a federal officer, raise a colorable federal defense to the claims and show a causal nexus between the claims and acts performed.

UTC asserts that it is entitled to the removal provision because it acted as a government contractor when it manufactured aircraft engines for use by the Air Force.

William Shultz Jr. of Kurwoski Shultz in Swansea represents UTC and Steven Aroesty of Napoli Bern in Edwardsville represents the Leggetts.

This marks at least the second time this month that the federal officer removal provision has been cited to remove a Madison County asbestos suit to federal court.

Last week, CBS Corp. removed a suit that Richard Spells Jr. brought last year as the administrator of Richard Spells’ estate.

It named 30 other defendants and claimed that Richard Spells, who died, had developed lung cancer as a result of his exposure to asbestos during his time in the Navy. Aroesty represents the plaintiff in that case as well.

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