Defense cross examines benzene expert as suit's trial continues

By Amelia Flood | Aug 25, 2010

An attorney for 3M hammered at an expert witness who claims that benzene found in the company's adhesives and other products led plaintiff Veto Kleinaitis to develop a form of cancer five years ago.

Defense attorney Bill Book cross examined James Hunsley, a Ph.D. chemical expert, about the severity of certain types of benzene exposures and the link between cigarettes and benzene on Wednesday morning.

Hunsley was testifying for Kleinaitis, arguing his exposure to traces of benzene in products made by 3M put him at greater risk than the average person who does not work with benzene containing products.

Kleinaitis, a Bethalto aircraft mechanic, developed mantel cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2005.

He claims 3M's products such as Top and Trim contained benzene-
contaminated ingredients and that it did not properly warn him of the cancer risk associated with the products.

3M claims that its products had nothing to do with Kleinaitis's cancer. It points to other sources of benzene exposures that could have caused the disease, such as Kleinaitis's smoking history.

The plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of $1 million.

The case is one of 17 benzene suits filed by the SimmonsCooper law firm between 2004 and 2006.

Kleinaitis's case is one of the few of those cases left standing.

It originally named more than 20 defendants including 3M.

All but 3M dropped out of the suit or settled.

Book questioned Hunsley about whether cigarette smoking was akin to inhaling gasoline fumes through straw when it came to benzene exposure.

"You would have to be crazy to do it," Hunsley said.

Hunsley admitted that he had no opinion about 3M's warning labels and their adequacy.

He also did not have an opinion about whether Kleinaitis properly
followed the company's safety instructions when he used the products.

Book asked Hunsley about a study of those working on U.S. Air Force bases that examined benzene exposures in that environment.

He asked Hunsley if that report found that smoking was a more likely benzene exposure source according to the study.

Hunsley agreed.

Book also questioned Hunsley about his previous work for the Simmons firm and meetings he had with attorneys from the firm as early as 2005.

Hunsley agreed that he had worked with the Simmons firm to "find some benzene" in cases in the past.

On redirect, plaintiff's attorney William Kohlburn asked Hunsley whether the study Book referenced looked at benzene exposures from sources other than cigarettes and jet fuel.

Hunsley testified it only looked at those two sources and compared them.

Kohlburn also asked Hunsley about his work with him and his firm.

Hunsley said he had not been hired specifically to look only at benzene but to educate Simmons firm members about a number of chemicals.

Kleinaitis's wife, Brenda Kleinaitis, took the stand after Hunsley.

She testified about her husband's life prior to his cancer diagnosis and his treatment. That testimony was to continue into the early part of Wednesday afternoon.

Brenda Kleinaitis had at one time a claim for loss of consortium pending against 3M.

That claim was dismissed without prejudice by Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis Aug. 3.

The suit's trial began Aug. 18.

Kohlburn, Ted Gianaris and others represent the plaintiff.

Book, Amanda Cialkowski of Nilan Johnson Lewis of Minneapolis and others represent 3M.

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

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