Madison - St. Clair Record

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Madison County asbestos suit settled one week into trial

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Mar 31, 2017

A deceased Ohio man’s asbestos suit alleging exposure to the potent crocidolite asbestos settled one week into trial in Madison County Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs’ courtroom.

Opening statements in the trial began March 22and a settlement was reached March 29.

Defendant Special Electric Company Inc. was the only remaining defendant and was represented by Thomas Burns and Daniel Pammer of O’Connell, Tivin, Miller & Burns LLC in Chicago.

Burns argued during opening statements that the issue at trial is whether there was a connection between defendant Special Electric and Special Asbestos at the time of plaintiff Larry Pridemore’s alleged exposure, calling this case a matter of corporate law.

Houston attorney Troy Chandler of Chandler McNulty and James Huss of Simmons Hanly Controy in Alton represented the decedent and his family.

Prior to settlement, the plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment based on the collateral estoppel on the issues of joint venture and alter ego on March 27.

“Plaintiff alleges that Special Electric sold and distributed asbestos fibers as a joint venture with Special Materials Inc., formerly known as Special Asbestos Company Inc., both of which were owned and controlled by Richard (Dick) Wareham,” the motion stated.

The plaintiff also argued that Special Electric is liable as an alter ego of Special Asbestos.

The motion stated that Wareham incorporated Special Asbestos for the sole purpose of distributing asbestos in the U.S.

Both Special Electric and Special Asbestos shared employees and profits. Therefore, the plaintiff alleged collateral estoppel should apply to the issue of joint venture.

The plaintiff argued that a California court found that Special Electric was a joint venture in the sale of asbestos with Special Asbestos until 1979 in Webb v Special Electric Company.

“The determination of these facts likewise establishes the existence of a joint venture under both Ohio and Illinois law during the relevant time period (1973-1976) in this case,” the motion stated.

The plaintiff also argued that another California court found that Special Electric and Special Materials were alter egos in Hill v Special Electric, meaning it should apply in this case.

“In the case at bar, the existence of a joint venture is a question of fact for the jury,” the motion stated. “The issue of alter ego/piercing the corporate veil is an equitable matter, and therefore, a matter for the court to ultimately decide.”

“Applying collateral estoppel to these issues would promote judicial efficiency by saving both this court and the jury from hearing and deciding maters that have already been conclusively determined against Special Electric. It would also avoid needlessly confusing the jury and allow them to focus on the more substantive issues raised in this case,” it continued.

Pridemore filed his lawsuit in November 2014 and died from mesothelioma in April 2015.

Chandler told jurors that Pridemore was exposed to crocidolite asbestos from 1973 to 1976 while working at Flintkote, which is best known for manufacturing asbestos-containing roofing materials.

As part of the decedent’s job, he would pour out bags of raw asbestos purchased from Special Asbestos.

Huss explained that Pridemore went to urgent care in September 2014 complaining of back and chest pain. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma after a CT scan revealed a thickening of the lining around his lungs.

He died roughly six months later.

Burns told jurors that Special Asbestos’ part in the asbestos industry and Pridemore’s damages were undisputed.

However, he said the plaintiffs continuously mix up Special Electric and Special Asbestos, stressing to the jury that the two are not the same.

He did not dispute that there was a relationship between the two companies, but he said the question was whether a joint venture between the two existed by 1973 when Pridemore was exposed to asbestos.

Burns said Special Asbestos needed the support from Special Electric to get started; but by the time Pridemore was exposed, Special Asbestos and Special Electric no longer had a joint enterprise.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 14-L-1525

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Organizations in this Story

Madison County Circuit Court O'Connell Tivin Miller & Burns LLC Simmons Hanly Conroy

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