Asbestos case award against Ford is voided But appellate judges uphold a verdict in a similar case

January 09, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's intermediate appellate court overturned yesterday one of two multimillion-dollar asbestos awards against Ford Motor Co., which used brake components that contained the cancer-causing material.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals said the "evidence simply was too thin" to prove that mechanic Nollie P. Wood Sr. regularly and often worked where Ford brake and clutch products were used. The action reversed the verdict and a $6.3 million award to his widow.

The judges upheld the companion verdict and award of $8 million to the widow of Keith K. Grewe Sr.

The Baltimore men were mechanics who died of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused mostly by exposure to asbestos. Wood was 71 when he died in 1990. Grewe was 55 at his death 1993.

The cases had been consolidated for a trial in Baltimore Circuit Court that lasted nearly a month. The June 1996 award marked the first time that the automaker had been found responsible for asbestos exposure from its brake linings.

The jury verdict, which lawyers said told manufacturers that they are considered responsible for products they distribute, stunned the industry.

Grewe's survivors were relieved that their verdict stood, but Gary J. Ignatowski, the family's lawyer, said, "Obviously this doesn't take the place of a young man who died."

"We feel bad for the Wood family," said Ignatowski.

Lawyers for the Wood family and Ford could not be reached.

Asbestos exposure cases are backlogged in Baltimore and elsewhere around the country, as workers and their survivors press for verdicts against companies that produced and used asbestos in everything from automotive brake linings to building tiles.

Ford had argued that the mechanics were exposed to asbestos beyond their work with Ford's materials. That made the company not liable for the disease. On appeal, Ford argued successfully that there was little to substantiate the contention by Wood's widow, Rosanna G. Wood, that Ford supplied replacement brakes to the U.S. Postal Service, where her husband worked in the garage.

The 56-page ruling could be appealed by any party to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, where the judges decide if they want to hear the case.

This was the court's second asbestos ruling in two days. On Wednesday the Court of Special Appeals overturned judgments against three of 11 companies that had been found liable or negligent in 1994 because workers contracted asbestos-related maladies. A jury had 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 argued that their health problems were the result of working with asbestos.

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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