About 150 claimants in a Madison County civil conspiracy class action suit claim they were ignorant about the dangers of asbestos exposure because they were given false and misleading information.

Edwardsville asbestos attorneys Randy Gori and Barry Julian filed the one-count claim against Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and John Crane on Oct. 14 for a long list of plaintiffs identified by name only. They do not seek damages for personal injury.

They claim, among other things, that the publication of "false and misleading reports" was done to "maintain a favorable atmosphere for the continued sale and distribution and use of asbestos."

Metropolitan Life is named in the suit as the general medical, disability and life insurance carrier for the "conspirators Johns-Manville in the U.S. and Canada, and Raybestos-Manhattan, as well as others in the industry."

The plaintiffs say that misinformation helped influence legislation, in the defendants' favor, to regulate asbestos exposure and limit medical and disability claims and to provide a defense in asbestos lawsuits.

A doctor who investigated asbestos-related health hazards in the United States beginning in 1929, is alleged to have later altered a study to influence public health policy.

"Dr. Anthony J. Lanza began an investigation…In 1935, this study was altered by Lanza, with the full knowledge of Metropolitan, at the request of and in concert with the asbestos industry, and the conspirator named herein in order wrongly to influence the United States Public Health Service, the United States medical community and various state legislatures, including the New Jersey Worker's Compensation Commission," the complaint states.

Lanza, plaintiffs claim, made a concerted effort to discredit the findings of scientists who were developing data "in relation to the lung cancer hazard which in fact did exist for workers and bystanders in the asbestos industry."

"…[M]any other active scientists in the field of environmental cancer were driven out of their laboratories soon after describing their findings on cancer hazards…," the suit claims.

"These efforts wrongfully obstructed and confused the real asbestos hazard situation, and had a profound retarding effect on the evaluation of the truth in asbestos and asbestos-related health and cancer research."

The alleged conspirators suppressed information concerning asbestosis in "Asbestos Magazine," a trade magazine generally read by sales and marketing personnel, the suit claims,

The complaint does not make specific allegations against gasket maker John Crane, an international manufacturer headquartered in the Chicago area.

Asbestos defense attorneys have said that John Crane is added to the litany of named defendants in typical Madison County asbestos lawsuits in order to secure venue.

In June 2005, John Fitzpatrick of Leclair Ryan in Richmond, Va. told Madison County Circuit Judge Dan Stack that conduct between a plaintiff's attorney and a John Crane attorney during an asbestos trial bordered on fraud.

Fitzpatrick made the comment after John Crane was granted a directed verdict and was dismissed from the case brought by plaintiff Jane Gudmundson of Cook County.

At the time he said the attorneys' conduct was "an improper use of the court and...borders on fraud."

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