Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, September 23, 2019

Plaintiff's case continues with video depositions in benzene trial

By Amelia Flood | Aug 20, 2010


Jurors watched the video deposition of a program manager for defendant 3M in the third day of a Madison County benzene trial.

The testimony of an economist from Maryville University and that of a physical medicine specialist from Belleville rounded out the day.

Karen Brooks, the program manager in charge of 3M's branch that monitors the company's products for environmental and health compliance, was questioned at length about what testing and warnings her company undertook related to benzene in their adhesives.

Plaintiff Veto Kleinaitis is suing 3M for more than $1 million in damages claiming that his exposure to benzene found in 3M's Top & Trim and other products led to the development of mantle cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, in 2005.

3M denies that its products had anything to do with Kleinaitis's cancer.

The Kleinaitis case is one of 17 benzene suits filed between 2004 and 2006 by the SimmonsCooper law firm. The firm has been renamed the Simmons firm.

It is one of the few suits of that bunch that remain ongoing.

Kleinaitis's suit originally named more than 20 defendants.

Those defendants settled out until 3M was left standing for trial.

Plaintiff's counsel William Kohlburn questioned Brooks at length on the video about the wording of the companies warning labels.

Specifically, Kohlburn questioned Brooks about why the words "benzene" and "cancer" did not appear on the warning labels of all of the runs of 3M's products.

"There was not a reason to put benzene on the label," Brooks said. "Cancer does not appear on these labels because there was not a reason to put 'cancer' on the label."

Mentions of benzene and cancer did appear on some 3M warning labels and/or on material safety data sheets Brooks reviewed in the deposition.

Brooks testified that although some of 3M's products contained traces of benzene, it would only put that word or a warning about cancer on its product labels if the level came close to or exceeded the companies .01 percent mark.

She testified that benzene was present in raw materials 3M received but added that its raw material concentrations were diluted when it was mixed to form the final product.

Brooks acknowledged that 3M usually did composite testing on the Top & Trim and other products Kleinaitis claims to have been exposed to, rather than product specific evaluations.

Economist Karen Taback testified about Kleinaitis's more than $1 million in lost wages following lunch.

The figure includes more than $890,000 the plaintiff would lose in future earnings if he is unable to work again.

Taback said she did not have an opinion as to whether Kleinaitis could work.

Following Taback, Belleville physical medicine doctor, Dr. Anwar Khan, testified via video deposition about Kleinaitis's physical condition and the effects of possible nerve issues he claims to have developed since his lymphoma treatment.

The suit's trial opened Tuesday with a day-long jury selection that spilled over into Wednesday morning.

A panel was sworn in about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and jurors heard opening statements that afternoon.

Thursday saw the opening of the plaintiff's case including the testimony of Boston pathologist Dr. Lawrence Zukerberg.

Zukerberg testified that benzene exposures caused Kleinaitis's cancer.

However, under cross examination by defense counsel Amanda Cialkowski, Zukerberg admitted that he could not say whether 3M's products had a hand in causing the plaintiff's disease.

The trial will not resume until Tuesday because Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis, the trial's presiding judge, will be in Chicago.

Kleinaitis is represented by William Kohlburn, Ted Gianaris and others of the Simmons firm of East Alton.

3M is represented by Amanda Cialkowski of Nilan Johnson Lewis of Minneapolis, Minn. and others.

The case is Madison case number 05-L-1050.

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3M Maryville University

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