A promising dawn in Madison County

By The Madison County Record | Mar 20, 2010

It is mid-March and only one asbestos trial has been held in Madison County.

It is mid-March and only one asbestos trial has been held in Madison County. That is somewhat extraordinary, given the county's long history as a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction for such lawsuits. Maybe the county's days as a "judicial hellhole" are numbered.

Even more extraordinary is the jury's verdict in favor of the defendant, the big, bad Ford Motor Company, accused of causing a Chicago mechanic's mesothelioma. The plaintiff apparently was unable to prove a causal connection between asbestos brake pads and mesothelioma. Nor was he able to demonstrate that the brake pads he'd handled had been manufactured by Ford.

It was an open-and-shut case, and the jury reached its verdict in under two hours.

Not so long ago a Madison County jury might have leaned towards overlooking the lack of evidence and the poor argumentation in order to decide in favor of the plaintiff.

As lead defense counsel Manuel Sanchez observed, "It's a new day in Madison County for corporate America. Not only did we get a great jury; we got a terrific, fair, and impartial judge." The case was tried before Circuit Court Judge Barbara Crowder.

Plaintiff Larry Williams had asked for more than $14 million in damages, alleging that asbestos in brake dust had caused his mesothelioma.

Sanchez dismissed the damage amount as "ridiculous" and demonstrated that Williams had not worked on Ford brakes. He also highlighted discrepancies in Williams' employment history that showed him working in locations other than where he claimed.

"I don't care who you are, you can't be in two places at one time," Sanchez told jurors. "Ford is not guilty of negligence and nothing that has been shown to you these past two weeks ... caused Mr. Williams' mesothelioma."

Citing 19 expert studies indicating that brake workers had no heightened risk of mesothelioma, Sanchez asked the jurors to decide the case on "credibility, science, and common sense."

And they did.

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