Asbestos lawsuit subject to review

A state appeals court ordered a Baltimore Circuit Court judge yesterday to reconsider the asbestos suit filed by the family of a deceased Bethlehem Steel shipyard worker, ruling that the date of the injuries might not bar the claim.

The Court of Special Appeals ordered that Judge Richard T. Rombro more thoroughly review a 1992 asbestos verdict before ruling on whether to dismiss the suit filed by Joyce Ragin of Baltimore.


Ragin filed a wrongful-death suit in 1990 against Porter Hayden Co. of Baltimore, alleging that her father, Flemmie Pettiford, suffered from asbestosis as a result of exposure to asbestos while he was a rigger at Bethlehem Steel's Fairfield shipyard from 1943 to 1945. The dust fell from insulation installed by Porter Hayden at the shipyard, according to court papers.

Pettiford's asbestosis was diagnosed in 1988, and he died of complications associated with the disease in 1990, according to court papers.


Ragin's lawyer was out of the country and unavailable for comment yesterday.

A lawyer for Porter Hayden declined to comment.

Ragin's asbestos suit was one of thousands filed in Baltimore Circuit Court in the 1980s and 1990s.

To deal with the suits, the cases were consolidated by Baltimore Circuit Court officials. In 1992, a jury awarded more than $11.2 million in compensatory damages to three asbestos victims.

The jury found that Porter Hayden and two other asbestos companies were liable for injuries suffered after 1956.

The verdict cleared the way for Ragin and thousands of other asbestos plaintiffs to have their cases heard in a series of "mini-trials."

Before Ragin's case came to trial, lawyers for Porter Hayden persuaded Rombro on Jan. 25, 1999, to throw out her suit - along with three others - because the injuries occurred before 1956.

In a 46-page ruling, Court of Special Appeals Judge Ellen L. Hollander said Rombro might have misinterpreted the 1992 jury verdict.


Hollander said it was unclear whether the jury imposed a cutoff date that prohibits claims for injuries from asbestos exposure before 1956.

"The court's interpretation may, indeed, coincide with what the jury meant. Nevertheless, in the context of the case, we think the verdict is arguably confusing," Hollander wrote.