A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury awarded damages yesterday to just two of eight former Bethlehem Steel employees, as well as one employee's wife, who alleged they were suffering from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos.
The plaintiffs, three of whom have died, sued 10 companies that either manufactured asbestos or installed materials containing asbestos at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point and Fairfield shipyards. They alleged that because of asbestos exposure on their jobs, they later suffered from lung diseases that include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The six-month trial before retired Circuit Judge Joseph I. Pines began with opening statements in February. The jury began deliberations Monday and returned verdicts yesterday afternoon.
The plaintiffs were seeking between $2 million and $5 million, said Warren Weaver, an attorney representing two of the defendants, Porter-Hayden and AC&S; Inc. One of the plaintiffs, Mary Wild, the wife of Edwin A. Wild, who is also a plaintiff, sued Bethlehem Steel, alleging that she contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos that was on her husband's work clothing. Mrs. Wild has died.
Only two plaintiffs will collect damages: The family of Philip Parsons, who died of mesothelioma, was awarded $126,000. Charles Drebing will collect $86,000.
In the other seven cases, the jury found that their diseases were not related to exposure to asbestos. Attorneys for the defendants were able to show that other factors could have caused the diseases.
"One of the misconceptions, I think, is people always consider these people victims and what they forget is 80 to 90 percent of them smoked," Mr. Weaver said. "They're exposed to a lot of things, and asbestos is one part of it. Everybody likes to look at the asbestos and forget about the other things."
Dominic D'Amico, who worked for Bethlehem Steel for 38 years, first as a welder and then as a supervisor, was one of the seven people not awarded damages. He is suffering from asbestosis.
"I'm kind of disappointed," Mr. D'Amico said. "I was expecting an award of something."
Mr. D'Amico said he believes he is entitled to compensation. "All during the time I worked at Bethlehem Steel, they had no program to help the employees or prevent the asbestos being in areas where employees worked without proper protection," he said.
Mr. Weaver said the cases were separated out of a consolidated asbestos liability trial, the nation's largest involving about 10,000 workers, in which a jury in December found 11 companies to be negligent for failing to warn workers about the potential health hazards posed by exposure to asbestos. Five workers were awarded more than $20 million in damages.
Actual damages for the rest of the workers will be determined through "minitrials."