Two asbestos firms have made out-of-court settlements with nearly all of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by nearly 8,600 people who sued claiming that they suffered illnesses caused by asbestos exposure, attorneys for the two firms said.
Fourteen firms had been named as defendants in a trial that is under way in Baltimore Circuit Court. The settlements were made by Fibreboard Inc. and Owens-Illinois.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants declined yesterday to discuss details of the settlements.
"I'm not at liberty to talk about details," said James L. Miller, attorney for Fibreboard Inc., which said it settled with all plaintiffs Friday.
Owens-Illinois Inc. has settled with all but 200 to 300 plaintiffs, said Bruce Shaw, one of its attorneys.
Peter G. Angelos, who represents nearly all of the plaintiffs, said the settlement discussions will continue. "The ideal objective is to settle reasonably and equitably," he said.
Judge Marshall A. Levin yesterday denied a motion, filed by defendants Owens Corning Fiberglas Corp. and Pittsburgh Corning Corp., calling for disclosure of the monetary awards made by Fibreboard and Owens-Illinois.
Judge Levin said that so long as Fibreboard and Owens-Illinois haven't been found liable for the plaintiffs' illnesses, those firms do not have to disclose the amount of the settlements.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs have withdrawn evidence against Fibreboard and Owens-Illinois.
It has been more than two years since the claims were consolidated, and the trial has been postponed twice.
Twenty jurors, including eight alternates, were sworn in yesterday.
"I'm very happy it's over," Judge Levin said. of the jury selection. "It was a very tedious process."
Three hundred prospective jurors were interviewed, he added.
Opening statements began today in the trial, which is expected to last four months.
The case was postponed in May 1991, when a secretary in a defense lawyer's office inadvertently faxed confidential memos into the office of one of the plaintiffs' lawyers.
Three months later, the trial was postponed when the number of defendants was reduced from 130 to 14.
The inhalation of tiny asbestos fibers has been linked to lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, an always-fatal cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen.
The plaintiffs claim that they contracted asbestos-related illnesses during exposure on the job.