Award in asbestos suit tops $5 million


A Baltimore jury late yesterday returned a $5.25 million verdict in favor of a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. worker whose lungs were damaged by exposure to asbestos.

The verdict in favor of Ernest Cumberland, 72, of Connellsville, Pa., was the first case to be decided in a group of backlogged asbestos injury cases that came to trial July 10 before five Baltimore Circuit Court judges.

The jury in the case before Judge Allen L. Schwait deliberated less than half an hour before awarding Cumberland, who must use oxygen equipment to breathe, $4 million in compensatory damages and $1.25 million for interference with his marriage.

Payment of the award will be split among seven parties found by the jury to be responsible for the damage.

Cumberland, who worked as a crane operator in the open-hearth area of Bethlehem Steel from 1953 to 1986, filed his lawsuit in 1987. His case was among the oldest of the roughly 12,500 asbestos injury cases that have been sitting in the courthouse.

Efforts to reach Cumberland for comment last night were unsuccessful. Efforts to reach attorneys from the law offices of Peter G. Angelos, which represents Cumberland and most of the plaintiffs in the other cases, and ACandS Inc., one of the key defendants, also were unsuccessful.

The jury verdict followed a decision Friday by Schwait and three other Circuit Court judges to deny motions for mistrial in the asbestos cases filed by lawyers for ACandS because of a job offer from the Angelos firm to Judge Edward J. Angeletti, the fifth judge assigned to hear the cases. Angeletti denied the motion for mistrial Thursday.

Baltimore became the center of asbestos injury litigation because of its large numbers of workers in steel mills and shipyards, where exposure to asbestos was common.

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