Jury sets asbestos-case damagesA Baltimore jury has...


Jury sets asbestos-case damages

A Baltimore jury has assessed millions of dollars in punitive damages against four companies, ending the nation's largest asbestos personal-injury trial.

In ruling the companies will have to pay up to $2.50 for every dollar of compensatory damages, the jury apparently dismissed arguments from the companies' lawyers that high awards could put them out of business or at least wipe out the company tills for paying future asbestos victims.

But only time will tell how many millions will be assessed against the companies. Jurors were asked to decide only on a "multiplier" -- a formula for assigning punitive damages based on actual awards to any of the 8,550 plaintiffs.

Yesterday's verdict ended a five-month trial that generated 28,000 pages of transcribed testimony and almost 1 million pages of documents. Evidence in the trial ranged from leaden explanations of financial and scientific concepts to a dramatic video tape of a 62-year-old former steamfitter and mesothelioma sufferer's dying days.


Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has been slapped with a $50,000 fine by federal regulators for safety violations at the utility's Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced yesterday that it is fining BG&E; for failing to repair a long-standing problem with the emergency cooling system at the twin-reactor plant on Chesapeake Bay near Lusby.

The defect, which has since been repaired, might have led to a meltdown of a nuclear reactor core in a serious accident, the commission said.

BG&E; representatives said they have not decided whether to pay the fine or appeal. The company has 30 days to decide.

Anne Arundel

A county volunteer firefighter has been charged with stealing money from the body of a Severna Park man killed in a car accident Sunday.

The firefighter, William Bruce Cooper, 27, of the 100 block of Warwickshire Lane in Glen Burnie, also has been banned from responding to calls while other departmental charges are weighed.

Mr. Cooper, a volunteer firefighter for two years, was charged with misdemeanor theft Sunday night.

Police investigators said he stole $120 from the pockets of Harry John Shew, 45, who had been killed in a car accident on Md. 10. He offered to share the money with another firefighter, investigators said, but was turned down.

After the theft charge was made, fire officials banned Mr. Cooper from responding to calls. Whether Mr. Cooper will be allowed on the station property is to be decided by Volunteer Chief Jay Olson.

Baltimore County

Towson State University has laid off about 25 administrative workers as part of an effort to close an anticipated $1.7 million budget deficit.

Another 20 to 25 people may lose their jobs in a possible second round of cuts, said campus spokeswoman Kathy Williams. The layoffs hit administrative and support workers in the business, finance and academic affairs departments. No faculty members lost their jobs.

"We're trying to avoid laying off faculty," Ms. Williams said.

The workers were given 30 to 90 days' notice last week. State officials cut the budget for the entire 11-campus University of Maryland system by $5.8 million last month.

John Lippincott, the system's associate vice chancellor, said no other colleges in the system have announced layoffs recently.


County prosecutors lifted a freeze on bank accounts held by four Hampstead condominium associations last week, giving the groups use of money that had been seized by the state nearly three weeks ago.

The bank accounts were under the management of Otis K. Comstock Sr., a Hampstead accountant and businessman being investigated by the state's attorney's office.

An investigator in the prosecutor's office confirmed the release of the accounts Thursday, but he declined to say how much money was being returned to the condominium associations.

State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman began investigating Mr. Comstock's businesses July 20, when Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown was told of possible financial wrongdoing.

Investigators from the state police and Mr. Hickman's office raided Mr. Comstock's offices July 24, seizing filing cabinets full of financial information.

They also froze 30 bank accounts at Union National Bank and an undisclosed institution that were controlled by Mr. Comstock. Mr. Hickman said the accounts totaled about $35,000, but some of those accounts did not belong to the condominium associations.

Accounts not belonging to the associations remain frozen, investigators said.

Mr. Hickman said that the associations, which represent over 150 Hampstead homeowners, have been bilked out of more than $90,000 since 1989.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Comstock, who is said to be cooperating with probers.


Saying a heavy snowfall could collapse the roofs over their heads, homeowners at the Pointe condominiums in Abingdon have asked a court to order repairs.

The Pointe Condominium Council of Unit Owners, representing the homeowners, seeks a Harford Circuit Court order to force the developer, builder and engineer to repair six buildings' roofs by Nov. 1.

An Illinois architectural firm the condo owners hired to inspect the buildings concluded a heavy snowfall would collapse the roofs because of faulty trusses. The work, the firm estimated, would cost $180,000, says a complaint filed last week.

But Michael J. Jack, a Baltimore attorney representing the complex's developer and builder, said the repairs cannot be done now because work crews are assigned to other projects.

The 228-unit complex, off Md. 24 near the Interstate 95 interchange, was developed and built in the late 1980s by the Pointe Inc. and Henderson-Webb Inc., both of Cockeysville.

The Pointe Inc., Henderson-Webb and Skarda & Associates Inc., a Baltimore engineering firm, are named as defendants.

The firms, as well as three other companies involved in the development of the condominium complex, were named as defendants in a separate suit, filed in January by the council, seeking $115 million compensation. In addition to the trusses, the January suit cites "severe problems" with walls, floors, stairs, balconies, windows and doors at the condominiums.

The suit is pending in Harford Circuit Court.

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