Steve Korris Nov. 22, 2013, 11:16am


SPRINGFIELD – Bloomington asbestos lawyer James Wylder, who lost cases at the Fourth District appellate court in September and October, lost another on Nov. 15.

Three justices affirmed McLean County Circuit Judge Scott Drazewski, who granted summary judgment to three defendants and entered a jury verdict against a fourth.

Gasket and packing product maker John Crane Inc. won the verdict against claims of product exposure and failure to warn, after an eight day trial last year.

Drazewski had granted summary judgment to Honeywell International, Pneumo Abex, and Owens-Illinois on a civil conspiracy claim prior to trial.

He wrote that any activity as consistent with innocence as with guilt is not clear and convincing proof of a conspiratorial agreement.

Drazewski also ruled prior to trial that plaintiff Carolyn Garrelts could not introduce evidence of events that occurred after her exposure to asbestos.

At trial, medical expert Arthur Frank testified that Garrelts suffered from mesothelioma.

He said John Crane products were a substantial contributing cause to her disease.

Garrelts testified that when former husband Al Garrelts returned from work at Kraft Foods in Champaign, from 1963 to 1979, his uniform was dusty, dirty and greasy.

She said she shook out his uniform before laundering it. She showed jurors videotape of Al, though his memory differed from hers.

He said the plant wasn’t dusty and Kraft used air purifiers throughout it. He said Kraft used tarps or other sanitation efforts when performing dusty work, and he didn’t remember his clothes being dusty when he got home.

For John Crane, radiologist Peter Barrett testified that no medical literature linked packing to mesothelioma.

He called Garrelts’ disease idiopathic, meaning it developed without exposure to asbestos.

He said 60 percent of women who develop the disease do so without asbestos exposure.

John Crane also called toxicologist Amy Madl, after Drazewski barred cross examination about the profits of her employer or the money her colleagues made.

Madl testified that a study showed handling gaskets and packing materials would not produce significant airborne concentrations of asbestos.

She said there was no risk that Garrelts was exposed to asbestos in concentrations great enough to cause her disease.

On cross examination, she said she billed $375 an hour.

Jurors sided with John Crane, and Drazewski entered judgment.

Wylder moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial, and Drazewski denied the motion.

Wylder appealed the verdict and the orders rejecting the conspiracy claims.

On conspiracy, Fourth District judges agreed with Drazewski that Garrelts showed no evidence beyond parallel conduct among defendants.

Justice James Knecht wrote that Drazewski required Garrelts to present evidence from which a reasonable jury could find a civil conspiracy.

“The court concluded she did not, and we agree,” Knecht wrote.

As for the trial, he found no evidence Drazewski committed errors or abused his discretion in excluding evidence of events after exposure.

He wrote that limits on Madl’s cross examination didn’t affect the outcome of the trial.

“The jury was aware of sufficient facts from which it could conclude Madl was biased and had a motive to opine in favor of company defendants in exposure cases,” he wrote.

In September, Fourth District judges affirmed Drazewski in tossing out a jury’s $80 million award of punitive damages in a Wylder conspiracy case.

Jurors had awarded Charles Gillenwater $40 million from Owens-Illinois and $20 million each from Honeywell International and Pneumo Abex.

Justice Thomas Appleton wrote that a showing of parallel conduct between Owens-Corning and Owens-Illinois didn’t prove they conspired.

“One company did not have to tell another to continue making money,” Appleton wrote. “One company did not have to tell another on which side its bread was buttered.”

In October, Fourth District judges affirmed Adams County Circuit Judge Mark Drummond in granting summary judgment against Wylder client Virginia Bowles.

She blamed Owens-Illinois and John Crane for the death of husband Jerald Bowles.

Fourth District judges held that she presented no testimony indicating he worked with John Crane products or was around people who regularly did so.

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