City wins $4.7 million in asbestos suit Verdict follows six months of testimony BALTIMORE CITY

June 24, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury ruled yesterday that two asbestos companies must pay more than $4 million to city government to cover the cost of asbestos removal from boiler rooms in schools, libraries, jail buildings and recreation centers.

The jury, which heard six months of testimony, said the asbestos companies, Keene Corp. and Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., should also pay punitive damages for selling or installing products containing the cancer-causing mineral.

The jurors, who deliberated for six days, were to return today to hear testimony on the financial condition of the companies and then decide on the amount of punitive damages.

The jury's ruling came in the second of three phases in the city's legal effort to recoup the costs of removing asbestos from municipal buildings. Last year, in an initial phase which dealt with sprayed-on fireproofing, the city won a $22.3 million verdict against United States Gypsum Co. and Asbestospray Corp.

The third phase of the trial, set to begin next year before Judge Joseph I. Pines, will concentrate on floor tiles containing asbestos in city buildings.

Eleven of the 13 defendant companies named in the second phase, which focused on asbestos products installed between 1956 and 1972 on boiler-room pipes and water heaters, settled before the case reached the jury.

Jordan Fox, a private attorney representing the city, refused to divulge the terms of those settlements.

Testimony in the second phase of the trial began in January. The city sought $7.6 million for the cost of asbestos removal and future monitoring of conditions at 54 municipal buildings, many of them schools.

Lawyers for the city said the asbestos has been removed in less than half of those buildings, but that laws governing the treatment of remaining asbestos are being followed.

The verdicts assessed compensatory damages of $4.24 million against Owens-Corning and more than $520,000 against Keene for a total verdict exceeding $4.7 million.

Although the verdict was less than two-thirds of what the city had sought, Carl Tuerk, another private attorney representing the city, claimed success, saying it was the first large property damage verdict obtained against manufacturers of pipe and boiler products.

He said those products are harder to identify by manufacturer than other asbestos products because they are "very generic looking" and, in the city's case, records of purchase and installation in the 1960s are hard to come by.

Neither Mr. Tuerk nor Mr. Fox would say how much in punitive damages they will seek.

The jury apparently was not persuaded that the two companies' products were in 11 of the 54 buildings and returned no damages on those claims.

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