Lawyers for 8,440 workers injured by exposure to asbestos asked a Baltimore judge yesterday to fine Owens Corning Fiberglas Corp. $1 million a day for contempt, claiming the company has failed to make millions of dollars of payments due the workers under a 1992 court-approved settlement.
In response, Baltimore Circuit Court Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan ordered the company to show by Dec. 1 why it should not be held in contempt. Judge Kaplan set a Dec. 6 hearing date.
Judge Kaplan has twice ordered Owens Corning to make the disputed payments, but Owens Corning has appealed the rulings, said Patricia J. Kasputys, an attorney for the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, which is representing the workers.
"They have defied the orders of the court and have failed to pay literally millions of dollars," Ms. Kasputys said. She defended the size of the proposed contempt penalty:
"This would be appropriate given their intentional disobedience and outright defiance of the court's orders."
An attorney for Owens Corning, Donald Meringer, at Miles & Stockbridge in Baltimore, declined to comment, saying the terms of the settlement were confidential.
The current case is part of the largest state-court consolidated asbestos case in the nation.
It was created in 1990, when Baltimore Circuit Judge Marshall A. Levin ordered that issues that were common to the cases of 8,555 workers who claimed they were injured by asbestos be consolidated into a single trial.
After trials involving these common issues -- such as whether the asbestos companies acted wrongly -- were resolved, mini-trials of eight to 10 cases at a time were scheduled to find out what effects asbestos had on specific workers. Asbestos has been linked to cancer and asbestosis, an often-debilitating scarring of lung tissue.
Owens Corning, a Toledo, Ohio-based building products company, settled its part in Baltimore's consolidated case on June 29, 1992.
Most of the 8,555 workers in the consolidated case worked for Bethlehem Steel Corp. or were contractors or suppliers who worked at the corporation's Sparrows Point steel mill. Owens Corning was named as a defendant because it supplied some of the asbestos used at the steel mill.
The current contempt citation covers slightly fewer workers because not all the workers whose cases were being heard as part of the consolidation are represented by Mr. Angelos, Ms. Kasputys said.