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Settlement brings major asbestos case to a close

December 8, 2018

Adella Cimino, namesake for a landmark class-action lawsuit filed nearly three decades ago on behalf of asbestos victims across Southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana, did not live to see the case to conclusion.

The Port Arthur native and her late husband, Claude, were among the 2,288 Southeast Texas refinery, chemical plant and shipyard workers exposed to the toxic mineral and diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases between 1985 and 1987.

One of the lead attorneys said Friday that the case, one of the longest-running in U.S. civil litigation history, is now fully settled and the money is ready to be distributed.

Cimino and her husband won’t see any of it, however. She died in September 2017, just more than a year before a three-judge arbitration panel in October awarded the workers and their relatives $140 million. That award, plus an earlier $38 million settlement in the Cimino v. Raymark Industries case, bring the total settlement to $178 million.

Claude Cimino died in September 2005. Attorney Bryan Blevins of Beaumont’s Provost Umphrey Law Firm said only about 70 of the thousands of workers who filed suit are still living.

“It’s frustrating because Dad waited for his money, then Mom waited for Dad’s money,” Blevins said in a telephone interview. “They’re gone now and didn’t have the comfort of knowing how it all ended.”

Monetary damages will be distributed to surviving family members and heirs, Blevins said.

The Ciminos, who worked at the Texaco refinery, suffered from pulmonary asbestosis, a disease that causes scarring in the lungs and impairs breathing. It is unclear from their obituaries if they died of the asbestos-related illness.

Family members could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Families like the Ciminos have been compensated by some of the 15 asbestos manufacturers that have settled since the lawsuit was filed in 1990.

They waited through more than 100 days of trial, 10 years of motions, transfers and appeals and another 16 years before they could file claims against the last defendant, the now-bankrupt Pittsburgh Corning Corp., a manufacturing company whose insulation products contained asbestos.

Pittsburgh Corning’s bankruptcy was “one of the longest bankruptcies in modern era,” Blevins said.

Still, he called the end result “nothing short of extraordinary.”

“We’re thankful we were able to bring this to a close,” Blevins said. “This was a long road to fight.”

Beaumont’s Glen Morgan of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn and Joseph Rice of Motley Rice were also involved the decades-long battle which began around the time asbestos litigation “picked up exponentially.”

“Over time, those dangers became more and more aware” and the scope of the asbestos problem “more widely known,” Blevins said, estimating that about 28 million Americans have been exposed to “dangerous levels” of the once-widespread material.

Each of the victims “shared a common work experience” at 22 refineries, chemical plants and shipyards in Southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana, he said.

He estimated that a total of about $30 billion in trusts has been set aside to compensate asbestos disease victims.

Of the dozens of asbestos trusts, Pittsburgh Corning’s is the largest formed in the last 20 years, Blevins said. The national trust starts with $4 billion in assets in anticipation of about 800,000 claims.

Blevins said the firm has been in communication with the spouses, children and grandchildren of asbestos disease victims.

Getting to this point has been “a long road to fight,” he said.

phoebe.suy@beaumontenterprise.com

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