ANNAPOLIS -- Owens-Illinois Inc. has suffered another setback in its ongoing struggle to shake itself free of asbestos lawsuits.
The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday upheld most of the damages against the Toledo manufacturer won by two former Bethlehem Steel Corp. shipyard employees who suffer from asbestosis, an incurable lung disease.
The state's highest court ruled that Othello Armstrong, 76, of Baltimore, a former welder, and Forrest Wood, 79, of Kissimmee, Fla., a retired rigger, were entitled to compensatory damages.
Owens-Illinois is also one of the defendants in the giant consolidated asbestos trial in Baltimore Circuit Court that involves 8,500 claims. This was a separate case.
In July 1989, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury ordered Owens-Illinois and co-defendant Owens-Corning Fiberglas to pay compensatory damages of $730,000 to Mr. Armstrong and $657,000 to Mr. Wood. It also said both men should receive punitive damages. The two companies made asbestos-based materials used by the two workers.
Before the trial proceeded on punitive damages, Owens-Corning settled with both defendants, agreeing to pay $304,166 to Mr. Armstrong and $410,625 to Mr. Wood.
Owens-Illinois did not settle, and the jury ordered it to pay $1 million in punitive damages to each plaintiff.
Owens-Illinois argued before the high court that it should be required to pay only the amount identified as punitive damages in the settlements reached by Owens-Corning. The court rejected that argument.
But the court ordered a new trial on the million-dollar awards to comply with a recent decision that says plaintiffs must show a clear and convincing standard of proof to award punitive damages.
Harry Goldman Jr., of the Baltimore law firm Goldman & Skeen, which represented Mr. Wood and Mr. Armstrong, said he expected the court to reject the punitive damage award because of the state high court's decision on that matter earlier this year. But Mr. Goldman said the opinion was a victory, and that he was happy for the clients.
The court's unanimous opinion, written by Judge Howard S. Chasanow, rejected arguments by Owens-Illinois that it was improperly barred from introducing an asbestos study by a Bethlehem Steel health engineer.
The court also rejected Owings-Illinois arguments that it would not have mattered to Mr. Armstrong if the company had warned him about the dangers of asbestos because he continued to smoke after cigarette packages contained warnings.