Jury Allows Asbestos Workers to Seek Compensation
Dec. 21, 1994
BALTIMORE (AP) _ Eleven companies were negligent in failing to warn workers about the health hazards of asbestos, a jury found, awarding more than $20 million to five plaintiffs.
The ruling Monday also gave 1,100 shipping and construction workers the right to pursue separate claims that their health was damaged by asbestos exposure, said Ted Flerlage, a lawyer for the firm representing most of the plaintiffs.
It further gave the defendant companies the right to sue each other and seven companies that were found negligent in 1992.
The ruling was a continuation of the 1992 case, which reviewed claims filed by Oct. 1, 1990, against companies that did asbestos-related business in Baltimore. With a total of 9,700 defendants and 18 companies involved, lawyers say the combined case marks the nation's largest asbestos proceeding.
Former asbestos workers and their families will now go to court in small groups to prove specific damages.
On Monday, the Circuit Court jury awarded the five plaintiffs damages from $500,000 to $9 million.
Four plaintiffs are still living. The fifth, John Goodman, died in February at 72 of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining or abdomen whose only known cause is exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos, which was widely used for fireproofing buildings, has been linked to lung disease and cancer. The federal Food and Drug Administration has forbidden its use for two decades.
Goodman wrapped pipes with insulation containing asbestos for Standard Oil from 1951 to 1957. He never again held a job that exposed him to asbestos, his lawyers said.
''I've never endured such pain,'' Goodman said in a videotaped interview from his deathbed. Goodman's widow wiped tears from her eyes Monday after she and her husband's estate were awarded $9 million.
''He represents the American worker,'' said lawyer Charles A. Candon. ''It's an American tragedy.''
The next step is for those companies to sue one another to determine how much responsibility each bears for the illnesses. In the final phase, the plaintiffs will be able to sue for punitive damages.
Compensatory damages pay for actual losses; punitive damages are extra payments assessed as punishment.
The firms that must pay compensatory damages are Asbestospray Corp., A.W. Chesterton Co., Corhart Refractories Co., E.L. Stebbing & Co., Hampshire Industries, John Crane Inc., Lloyd E. Mitchell Inc. and U.S. Mineral Products Co.