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Opening Arguments Heard in Case Involving Asbestos Filter

October 30, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A man who switched to Kent cigarettes because he believed they were healthier developed a rare form of cancer from inhaling asbestos from the cigarettes’ filters, his lawyers argued Tuesday in federal court.

In response, lawyers for Lorillard Inc., the maker of Kent, and Hollingsworth & Vose, the maker of the filter material, said the companies acted responsibly when asbestos was used in Kent’s ″Micronite″ filter in the 1950s.

″We didn’t believe then and we don’t believe now that that cigarette could have caused Mr. Ierardi’s disease,″ said Lorillard attorney David Hardy.

Philadelphia stockbroker Peter Ierardi switched to Kent cigarettes nearly four decades ago because of an advertised claim that the Micronite filter was safe, said his lawyer, Tom Johnson.

He quoted from a Kent advertisement from the 1950s: ″If you worry about the hazards of smoking, here is the cigarette for you.″ He also quoted from a later ad that called the filter ″safe, harmless, dust-free and pure.″

From 1952 to 1956 the Kent filter contained crocidolite asbestos.

″The evidence will show that that filter, rather than providing protection, provided poison,″ Johnson told the eight-member jury in his opening argument.

Johnson said he would show electron-microscope photos of the filters after they were tested in a lab.

″You will see particles of crocidolite hanging off the end of the filter, waiting to be sucked into the lungs of people like Peter Ierardi,″ he said.

Johnson said Ierardi has incurred medical bills of $165,000.

Hardy told the jurors he would ask them to ″put yourselves in that time frame. Think of things as they were then, rather than as they are now.″

Hardy said in the 1950s asbestos was not considered to be as hazardous as scientists now know it is.

″Asbestos in World War II was an amazing product,″ he said. ″Crocidolite asbestos was the filtering product in gas masks that protected American soldiers from poisonous fumes.″

Scientists and industry realized in the 1950s that asbestos could cause health problems, ″but quantity was the key,″ Hardy argued.

″There was no evidence that asbestos caused problems in other than heavy, heavy exposure″ experienced by miners and asbestos workers, he said.

He also said experts would testify that Ierardi could not have contracted mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer, from exposure to Kent cigarettes.

Andrew McElaney, an attorney for Hollingsworth, went over the development of the Micronite filter and the slow imposition of government controls on asbestos in the work environment.

″Thirty-nine years later, Mr. Johnson is challenging a decision people made back then,″ he said.

″The evidence will show that Hollingsworth & Vose acted with reasonable care in all respects. The evidence will show that Hollingsworth and Vose created a useful cigarette filter,″ he said.

The case is being argued before U.S. District Judge Clarence Newcomer. The trial is expected to last between two and three weeks.

Newcomer told the jurors they could take notes during the trial, usually an indication that the judge expects the case to be complex.

Ierardi and his wife, Angela, are seeking unspecified monetary damages of at least $200,000 from New York-based Lorillard and from Hollingsworth & Vose, of Walpole, Mass.

The lawsuit is unusual because it deals with asbestos, rather than the hazards of smoking. Anti-smoking advocates say a victory for Ierardi could lead to a flood of liability lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

Ierardi was present for the opening arguments but left after a midmorning break. As a result, he wasn’t present to hear Dr. Paul E. Epstein testify about his disease.

″I hate to see a patient come in with that diagnosis, particularly if the patient comes in with his wife,″ testified Epstein, who is chief of the pulmonary division at Graduate Hospital.

″By the time the disease has run its course, that patient will have gone through the most intense pain, and his wife will have to watch him suffer, and I know that every time she looks at me after that, she will associate me with that pain,″ Epstein said.

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