Judgments in asbestos case against 3 companies upset Court of Special Appeals modifies some damages

January 08, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The Court of Special Appeals overturned yesterday judgments against three of 11 companies that had been found liable or negligent in 1994 because workers contracted asbestos-related illnesses.

The court also ordered that certain judgments against two of the companies be recalculated and that damages awarded to one plaintiff be reduced.

The state's intermediate appellate court found there was insufficient evidence to uphold four judgments against U.S. Mineral Products Co., manufacturer of a fire-proofing spray; two against E. L. Stebbing & Co. Inc., contractor; and two against Hampshire Industries Inc., contractor.

It ordered damages recalculated in other judgments against Stebbing and Hampshire.

The court reduced a judgment against Rapid-American Corp., successor to a manufacturing company involved in the original trial, because a damage limit was in effect at the time the plaintiff worked there. Arguments by a fifth company, John Crane Inc., a manufacturer of pipe sealing, were rejected.

"Stebbing believed all along that the evidence was insufficient," said John J. Nagle III, who represented the company. "We're obviously very pleased that the court was able to accept our argument."

But in overturning the judgments against manufacturers and contractors, the court found that the three-phase, eight-month XTC trial in Baltimore Circuit Court was not so confusing as to violate the companies' right to due process. The trial, which began in June 1994 and ended in February 1995, was the second consolidated asbestos trial held in Baltimore.

The jury found that 11 manufacturers, contractors and suppliers were negligent for failing to warn workers of risks to their health in being exposed to asbestos.

In December 1994, a jury awarded three Baltimore-area men and the estates of two others damages ranging from $500,000 to $9 million. The men, who worked with asbestos as steamfitters, pipefitters and insulator's helpers, were chosen to represent the thousands of Baltimore-area men who worked with the substance and claimed health problems.

The damages were to be paid by combinations of companies held liable in each case. Five companies joined in the appeal filed in June 1997. The elimination of some companies means the remaining companies held liable will have to pay a larger share of the damages.

The court also ordered that a $500,000 award to Leonard Ciotta, a former laborer and pipefitter's helper in the 1950s, be reduced to $350,000, the limit on damages between 1986 and 1994, when his health problems started. The award had been appealed by Rapid-American Corp., successor to a manufacturing company involved in the original trial.

The other cases affected by the ruling involve the estates of John J. Goodman, an insulator's helper, and Carroll Morrow, a pipefitter and plant inspector; and Terry Theis and Frederick Glensky, former steamfitters.

Theodore M. Flerlage Jr. of the law offices of Peter G. Angelos, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he had not seen the ruling and could not comment.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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