June 8, 1990 Two asbestos manufacturers have
been ordered by a Baltimore jury to pay more than $11 million to 10 men who
were exposed to the toxic substances at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard at
The month-long trial, which ended yesterday in Circuit Court, is
one of the last that will be tried in the city before next year's
consolidation of cases, which has been ordered to overcome the huge backlog
in asbestos litigation.
The plaintiffs in this case included men who had worked as
welders, machinists, crane operators, store room clerks and pipefitters at
Bethlehem Steel. One had worked there less than five years, the others had
worked for 20-30 years.
What tied their cases together, said Shepard Hoffman, an
attorney for the plaintiffs, was their common work location and the fact
that all claimed to have contracted asbestosis, a progressive scarring of
the lung tissue.
Attorneys for the two defendants, Celotex Corp. of Florida and
the New York City- based Manville Corp. Asbestos Disease Compensation Fund,
had challenged the diagnosis of asbestosis in six of the men. they also
tried to establish that it was impossible to prove it was their clients'
asbestos to which the men had been exposed.
But a jury, after deliberating more than nine hours over two
days, decided to award compensatory damages totaling $11,265,000. the awards
to the individual men ranged from $360,000 to $2 million for four of the
Philip Lohrey, one of the attorneys who represented Celotex,
said he will appeal the case to the Court of Special Appeals, the state's
intermediate appellate court. "We think we have substantial grounds to
appeal, on the basis of insufficient evidence," he said. "Our
position was and is that no product for which Celotex is responsible was any
factor in causing any disease or injury." Celotex was held accountable
in nine of the cases; Judge John Carroll Byrnes dismissed one of the
plaintiffs' suits against Celotex.
The attorney for Manville could not be reached.
Eight of the men were well enough to testify at the trial,
Hoffman said, One, Stanley Bell, is on an oxygen machine and could not come
to court. A second man, Hastings Campbell, also was too ill to testify, but
his son, Lawrence, took the stand.
Of the eight men who did testify, six still live in the
Baltimore area; Harold Adams, William Beeks, Crocket Brewster, George
Farmer, George Foster and Kenneth Perkins. Two others, Ronald Cox and Ned
Staton, have retired to North Carolina.
While most of the men were exposed to the substance for a 20-30
year period ranging from the 1940s to the 1970s, Perkins' exposure was
limited to four or five years during World War II, Hoffman said. After
leaving Bethlehem Steel, Perkins joined the Army and later worked for the
Maryland National Guard, but he testified he was never exposed to asbestos