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Jury Awards $15.3m In Asbestos Exposure Case: A Baltimore Jury Has Awarded $15.3 Million To A 73-Year-Old Halethorpe Man Whose Terminal Cancer Was Linked To Asbestos Exposure While Working At A South Baltimore Shipyard In The 1950s

Brendan Kearney

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
February 4, 2008

A Baltimore jury has awarded $15.3 million to a 73-year-old Halethorpe man whose terminal cancer was linked to asbestos exposure while working at a South Baltimore shipyard in the 1950s.

After a two-week trial before Judge Carol E. Smith, the six-person jury decided rope made by John Crane Inc. contributed to George J. Linkus Sr.’s mesothelioma diagnosis 50 years later.

Linkus worked at Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s Key Highway ship repair facility from 1952 to 1959 as a machinist, first on ships, then in a repair shop. From 1954 until he left the job, Linkus lined valves with the rope that John Crane admitted contained 60% to 70% asbestos, said David L. Palmer of Peter Angelos Law, one of Linkus’ attorneys.

“When [Linkus] handled the product, it emitted visible dust,” said Palmer. “The visible dust, according to the testimony at trial, indicates high levels of exposure.”

Palmer said the Morton Grove, Illinois-based sealant manufacturer did not contest Linkus’ mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs that is almost always caused by inhaling particulate asbestos.

“They said their product didn’t contribute to the development of the disease,” Palmer said.

At trial, Palmer said he and co-counsel Andrew M. Cantor and William G. Minkin called a “full panoply of experts,” including two pathologists, an industrial hygienist and a cell biologist. John Crane called a pulmonary doctor, Palmer said.

Palmer said the jury took just over a half hour to return their verdict – $335,000 in past medical expenses and $15 million in pain and suffering damages – on Wednesday afternoon. Palmer would not say why he did not ask for future medical expenses.

Daniel O’Connell, who represented John Crane along with Peter A. Woolson of Robinson Woolson P.A. in Baltimore, praised the judge and opposing counsel but took issue with the jury’s quick decision.

“When a jury comes back with a plaintiff’s verdict in 32 minutes, that means they made up their minds a long time ago,” said O’Connell of O’Connell, Tivin, Miller & Burns LLC in Elgin, Illinois. “That was the problem with the case. The jury wasn’t following the instructions. They didn’t listen to the evidence.”

The jury also found a pair of cross-defendants contributorily liable for Linkus’ exposure. Linkus had previously settled with Owens-Illinois Inc., a Perryville, Ohio-based glass manufacturer who made asbestos-containing thermal insulation, and Foster Wheeler Inc., a Clinton, New Jersey-based construction contractor and power equipment supplier that also made asbestos-containing boilers.

Under Maryland law, John Crane may be entitled to a reduction in the verdict based on the contributory negligence of the cross-defendants, leaving its liability at about $5.1 million, Palmer said. He said that a determination will likely be made this week and submitted to the judge for approval.

“They’re going to move for and will probably receive a reduction in the verdict amount by the pro rata shares, which would be two-thirds,” Palmer explained.

Two other cross-defendants – Westinghouse Electric Corp., a CBS Corp. subsidiary that made micarta, an asbestos-containing laminate used in ship bulkheads and Memphis, Tennessee-based International Paper Co., which distributed micarta – were not found liable. Linkus had previously settled with both parties.

In the April 2005 suit filed by now Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, Linkus named 64 defendants. Palmer said claims against the other defendants were either “resolved” or dismissed, but would not be more specific.

John Crane never made a settlement offer, said Palmer.

Linkus, who later founded a refrigeration company that his two sons now run, first experienced symptoms of mesothelioma in 2004 and was diagnosed at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2005, Palmer said. Life expectancy after diagnosis is generally 12 to 18 months, according to Palmer, but after nearly three years and two cycles of chemotherapy, Linkus’ condition is “stable.”

“At the present, they haven’t seen evidence of continued spread,” said Palmer, calling Linkus’ continued survival “unusual.” “Like he says, ‘It’s from MRI to MRI.’ You have to worry about it all the time.”

George J. Linkus Sr. v. John Crane-Houdaille Inc., et al.

Court: Baltimore City Circuit Court
Case Number: 24X05000315
Proceedings: Jury trial
Judge: Carol E. Smith
Outcome: Plaintiff’s verdict
Dates: Incident: 1954-1959; Suit filed: Apr. 14, 2005; Disposition: Jan. 30, 2008
Plaintiff’s Attorney: Palmer David L. Palmer, Andrew M. Cantor and William G. Minkin of Peter Angelos Law
Defense Attorney: Daniel O’Connell of O’Connell, Tivin, Miller & Burns LLC; Peter A. Woolson of Robinson Woolson P.A.
Injuries Claimed: Terminal Cancer (Mesothelioma)
Award: $15.3 million
Incident Location: Baltimore, Maryland