Corporate America Wins in Madison County a Fifth Time

On 14 December, NL Industries, the counsel of which had not called a single witness on its behalf, was granted a verdict in its favor by a jury who had spent barely two hours in deliberations.

Harry Glass, the plaintiff in the case, had sought over $6 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the lead company. According to the complaint, his wife contracted and subsequently died from mesothelioma because of asbestos fibers that he had unknowingly brought home in his clothing, breathing them in as she did laundry. Glass was employed by NL Industries’ predecessor, National Lead, between 1952 and 1978.

This particular case was unusual for two reasons. On one hand, there was the fact that lawyers for the defense had decided before the case went to trial not to call on any witnesses, nor even present expert testimony, which is normal procedure in asbestos cases. Only one piece of evidence was admitted during presentation of the defendant’s argument.

At least one juror considered it “odd” that no witnesses were called for the defense, but added that National Lead “has been out of business for 30 years.” She added that she did not feel that NL Industries should be held liable for the illness and subsequent death of Mary Glass.

Counsel for the plaintiff argued that the dangers of secondary asbestos exposure has been known for at least 45 years, and that National Lead had failed in its duty of care by not providing changing rooms, showers, and employee warnings of the asbestos hazard.

Defense counsel responded by claiming that research on secondary exposure had been conducted well into the 1990s and, in fact, were not well known during the time Mr. Glass was alleged to have been exposed.

The verdict is also odd in light of a similar case that was recently decided in Snohomish County, Washington, this past summer (see “Employers’ Responsibility Toward Employee Family Members” posted 29 August) when a judge ruled that the plaintiff’s former employer–which had since been acquired by a second corporation–was indeed liable for the death of the wife by secondary exposure.