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Mini-Trials To Proceed in Big Asbestos Case Despite Appeals

November 30, 1992

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Small trials to decide damages for 8,500 plaintiffs in the nation’s biggest asbestos worker-health case will begin next year despite court appeals, the presiding judge said Monday.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Marshall Levin said he will hold hearings on Wednesday and Dec. 7 to finalize details of the mini-trials, which are expected to begin in March.

″I have decided to go ahead with the cases because many of these people are dying and I want them to have relief from the courts if they are entitled to it,″ Levin said.

Levin grouped 8,555 cases together in a bid to speed resolution for plaintiffs, many of whom are dying of cancer, lung disease and other afflictions. The case is being watched for its effect on industry and a court system backlogged by asbestos litigation.

In July, a jury ruled that six companies that made or distributed asbestos products must pay $11.2 million in compensatory damages to three sample plaintiffs. Three other plaintiffs were judged not entitled to damages. The verdict meant cases against the remaining plaintiffs could continue.

In August, the jurors decided that four of the defendants also were eligible for punitive damages up to 2 1/2 times of compensatory damages awarded at the mini-trials.

Attorneys for the companies plan to appeal the jury’s verdicts on several grounds, including that the consolidation was unconstitutional.

Peter Angelos, who represents most of the plaintiffs, said waiting for appeals to be decided could delay mini-trials more than a year.

The judge said the cases of the sickest plaintiffs will be heard first in the mini-trials. Plaintiffs will have cases heard in groups of 10. The cases will be grouped together by occupation, illness and other common characteristics.

Among the defendants, punitive damages were assessed against GAF Corp., Keene Corp., Pittsburgh Corning Corp. and Porter-Hayden Co. Levin ruled two other defendants, AC&S Inc. and MCIC Inc., weren’t liable for punitive damages.

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