Articles Posted in Toxic Torts

Illinois Tool Works purchased commercial liability policies many years ago from Travelers Casualty Surety Co. and Century Indemnity Co. They were purchased by Illinois Tool Works for the years 1971 through 1987.The policies were designed to have the insurance companies defend Illinois Tool Works against toxic-tort injury complaints that did not allege dates or exposure or injury.

The insurance companies reportedly declined to defend Illinois Tool in thousands of toxic-tort cases in which the plaintiffs alleged that their injuries were caused by exposure to hazardous substances, which included asbestos, benzene and manganese in welding supplies and other products distributed by other companies Illinois Tool started buying in 1993. According to the facts in the case, Illinois Tool did not enter the welding product market until 1993, while the last insurance policy that was issued expired in 1987.

A Cook County judge granted Illinois Tool’s request for summary judgment. On appeal, the tort complaints were characterized this way: Continue reading

In a lawsuit against ExxonMobil Corp., four individuals claimed injury and death because they were exposed to benzene and other hazardous chemicals when they worked as rubber workers, tire builders and final finish laborers at a tire manufacturing facility.  The cases were brought by the families of these deceased workers for their wrongful deaths and survival claims. In the circuit court, the claims were dismissed on summary judgment being timed-barred. This case was filed in Wisconsin and the plaintiffs appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

In the lawsuit that was filed, the four individuals also claimed that they suffered personal injuries and died as a result of their exposure to benzene and benzene-containing materials. 

It was determined by the trial judge that the statute of limitations began to run for all claims at the latest on the decedents’ dates of death and that the complaint, which was filed more than three years (statute of limitations in Wisconsin), after those dates was time-barred because the three years had passed.

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In 2002, the Illinois Central Railroad was sued in the State of Mississippi where plaintiff Walter Fennell lived. The lawsuit alleged that he and others were exposed to asbestos when working for the railroad. After discovery was completed in 2006, the trial court in Mississippi dismissed the case without prejudice. The plaintiff, instead of re-filing in Mississippi, filed the lawsuit in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, Ill., in 2009.

Again after discovery had been conducted, the defendant, Illinois Central Railroad, moved the court to dismiss the case under the interstate doctrine of forum non conveniens. The St. Clair County circuit court judge denied that motion and the case was appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, which also affirmed the trial judge’s decision. This occurred in 2010. The case was then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the citizens of St. Clair County should not be asked to bear the burden of this lawsuit because the vast majority of the identified witnesses, treating physicians and some of the plaintiffs were residing in Mississippi and not in Illinois.

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In this case, the defendant, Dale Levan, admitted liability for an auto accident that left a woman, Denise Ponto, injured. The verdict on damages was $585,174, but the defendant had only $100,000 in liability insurance. The plaintiff tried to collect the rest of the money from the city of Dixon, where the accident occurred. The jury had decided that the city was 35 percent at fault for causing the accident.

But the plaintiff’s error was that she did not try to add the city as a direct defendant within one year of the filing, as required under Section 8-10(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. Dixon’s culpability was a question for the jury because the defendant promptly filed a contribution claim against the municipality when he was sued.

The trial judge concluded that the law barred Ponto’s claim against Dixon and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed that ruling. Both the plaintiff and the defendant argued that a third-party defendant (in this case the city) who is more than 25 percent at fault is jointly and severally liable to the plaintiff for all damages, based on Section 2-117 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Section 2-117 specifies the rules on joint liability for all defendants found liable in tort cases involving bodily injury, death or property damage. Ponto reasoned that the reference to “all defendants found liable” meant that Dixon was jointly liable for her damages.

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Whenever we live near an industrial area, we are at the mercy of those whose job it is to oversee and properly maintain the industry. Industrial “accidents” or cases of neglect and incompetence, can turn our lives upside down and, potentially, adversely affect our health. Such was the case in the 2010 oil spill caused by the Canadian company Enbridge Inc. in southwestern Michigan.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report about the spill, saying it was the result of multiple cracks in the pipeline and that the company did not recognize the ruptures. The report also said the massive oil spill was caused by a complete breakdown of company safety measures, while its employees performed like “Keystone Kops” trying to contain it.

The Reuters news service carried a story about the report.

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the trial court was correct in granting the defendants’ motion to prevent a plaintiff’s expert from testifying in an asbestos case. In this case, the plaintiff’s expert theorized that “each and every fiber” of inhaled asbestos was a substantial contributing factor in asbestos-related diseases.

The defendants sought to bar or prevent that testimony using the U.S. Supreme Court’s rule in the Frye case.

In Betz/Simikian, Charles Simikian brought a product liability case against Allied Signal, Inc., Ford Motor Co. and others. The plaintiff claimed that throughout his 44-year career as an auto mechanic, he was exposed to asbestos products, which in turn caused him to develop the condition known as mesothelioma.

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The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed a circuit court’s ruling regarding the venue in a railroad employee’s personal injury lawsuit. While the railroad company had wanted to transfer the case to Mississippi, the Illinois courts supported the plaintiff’s choice of Illinois as the case’s venue. Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 2012 WL 19455 (Ill.App.2012).

The plaintiff, Walter Fennell, had been working for Illinois Central Railroad Company for over 35 years. In 2009, Fennell filed a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) lawsuit against Illinois Central Railroad. The FELA lawsuit alleged that Fennell was exposed to asbestos, diesel exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke, sand, and toxic fumes, dust, and gases during the tenure of his employment, which in turn resulted in Fennell’s current respiratory problems. Fennell was seeking compensation for the health problems he allegedly developed during the course of his employment with Illinois Central.

Shortly after Fennell was filed, Illinois Central sought to have the case dismissed under the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens, which is a legal doctrine that allows a court to deny its jurisdiction if it finds that a different forum would be more convenient and more equitable. The defendant railroad argued that Mississippi would be a more convenient and fair location on the grounds that Fennell himself lived in Mississippi, that Fennell had worked in Mississippi for the majority of his career, and because the alleged injury likely occurred in Mississippi. However, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion and affirmed Illinois’s jurisdiction in the case; the defendants appealed this decision.

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A Missouri judge declared a mistrial in a class action lawsuit against tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris USA because the jurors had still not come to a decision after five days of deliberation. The Missouri lawsuit was first filed in 2000 and included claims that the cigarette company had misled smokers through its claims that “light” cigarettes were safer than regular cigarettes.

While other tobacco companies have employed similarly misleading language by advertising “light” or “low tar” cigarettes, the St. Louis personal injury lawsuit specifically focuses on Philip Morris. It alleges that Philip Morris was in violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act due to its false claims that its Marlboro Lights contained less tar and nicotine than its Marlboro Reds.

Since being filed in 2000, the Missouri lawsuit had undergone eleven years and several twists and turns, including an appeal and several trips to the federal court. And while St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael David put an end to the current litigation cycle, the case can still be retried. And according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, there are already plans in the works to begin retrying the class action lawsuit.

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In the Cook County personal injury case of Wayne C. Bland and Suzanne Bland v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 07 L 1633, a company takes responsibility for the negligence of one of its employees. The worker at the Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s Lemont plant left a piping system valve open, thereby releasing hydrofluoric gas into the surrounding areas. The cloud of noxious gases left another man hospitalized and led to the filing of this work injury lawsuit.

The 41 year-old plaintiff, Wayne Bland, was working as a crane operator for Imperial Crane at the time of his work injury. After breathing in the dangerous gas, Bland required a six day hospitalization due to the respiratory damage caused by the toxic gas. Bland was diagnosed with acute respiratory tract damage, which presented as a general chest tightness and a persistent cough. While Bland’s symptoms lasted for several months, his medical providers were unable to find any significant respiratory problems.

Because Bland was not employed by Citgo, it would not be responsible for paying any workers’ compensation he received as a result of his work injury. However, its employee was the cause of Bland’s accident, so by association Citgo was also at fault for Bland’s injury. Therefore, Bland brought a lawsuit against Citgo which accused the petroleum company of being responsible for its employee’s negligence in leaving the pipe valve open and for causing Bland’s subsequent injuries.

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In 2002, a mother and her teenage daughter were living in a rented home. One night, the high school junior returned home at 10:30 pm and noticed a faint order when she walked into the residence, but she didn’t identify it as natural gas because she didn’t know what natural gas smelled like.

On the following morning, the mother woke up about 6:30 am and smelled what she thought was natural gas. Her daughter recognized the odor as the same she had detected the night before but the smell had grown much stronger. The mother called 911, but the gas explosion occurred immediately after that call was made. The mother and daughter were severely injured.

The plaintiffs sued the owner and general manager of the duplex where they lived as well as the plumbing company that had installed the gas piping. It was alleged by the plaintiffs that the interior gas piping had been installed negligently and caused the explosion.

After the lawsuit had been filed, the plaintiffs added gas utility, Northern Illinois Gas as a defendant. The plaintiff settled with the building owner and general manager as well as the plumbing company. They proceeded against Northern Illinois Gas who they alleged was negligent in that the company failed to inspect its work and warn the plaintiffs.

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