Back-to-Back Asbestos Trials in Madison County

With all the coverage here about asbestos litigation, it’s easy to forget the fact that, while there are a huge number of asbestos lawsuits filed every year, very few ever come to trial. Most of these suits are settled out-of-court in order to avoid lengthy and costly court proceedings. Therefore, one actual asbestos trial in a jurisdiction is a rare event, let alone two consecutive ones, especially when the same defendant is named in both trials. Opening arguments in Chester Black v. Georgia-Pacific were heard on 25 September. Proceedings ended on 2 October, with closing arguments scheduled for the following day. Black’s complaint alleged that he was exposed to large amounts of asbestos from the products used or handled in the course of his employment. Unfortunately for Black, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May of 2006, Georgia-Pacific has an exceptionally skilled attorney on their side. Jeff Hebrank, counsel for GP, has gotten his corporate client off the hook twice before in the Madison jurisdiction. Judge Tom Chapman’s “directed verdict” in Black’s case was the third victory for Hebrank.

Practically the moment Chester Black’s trial concluded, opening arguments were heard in the case of John Larson v. Georgia Pacific. According to the complaint, Larson, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in November of 2006, is a victim of “secondary exposure,” meaning that his exposure to asbestos resulted from dust that had been carried home on his father’s clothing and hair. Recently, a Washington State appellate court ruled that corporations could indeed be held liable for such secondary exposure. The case in Snohomish County north of Seattle involved that of a man whose wife contracted mesothelioma due to asbestos fibers on his work clothing, which she washed every night (see the 29 August post). The county court originally ruled that the defendant in the case, the Scott Corporation, had no duty of protection toward their employees’ family members. This ruling was overturned in the Washington State Court of Appeals earlier this year. While Larson’s case is very similar to the one in Washington State, it is not known if that precedent will be applied here.