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Jury awards widow $850,000 in asbestos case

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BLOOMINGTON — A McLean County jury awarded $850,000 to a widow whose husband died of mesothelioma.

It was the third McLean County lawsuit in 14 months won by plaintiffs accusing a company of conspiring to hide asbestos dangers. The jury awards in the three lawsuits against Honeywell International Inc. have totaled more than $11 million.

Robert Blessing first experienced symptoms of mesothelioma in June 2005 and died in December 2005, said Lisa Corwin, one of the attorneys who represented Blessing from Walker & Wylder, a Bloomington law firm. He filed the lawsuit, and his wife, Judith, carried on the litigation.

Robert Blessing worked as a builder and inspector for pipe covering at Union Asbestos and Rubber Co., also known as Unarco, from 1953 to 1960 at its Bloomington plant, she said.

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause for mesothelioma, a slowly developing cancer.

A jury also awarded more than $5 million in October 2005 to the wife of Merlan Dukes, who died of mesothelioma and worked for Unarco in the 1950s. And another jury awarded $5.5 million last month to the wife of John Hoogerwerf, who installed insulation on pipes and boilers locally using materials sold by Bendix Aviation Corp., which eventually became part of Honeywell.

On Monday, jurors awarded $100,000 in damages for losses by Robert Blessing, $50,000 for damages suffered by Judith Blessing and $700,000 for the wrongful death of Robert Blessing, a court document says.

Honeywell is one of several companies accused of involvement in a conspiracy to hide from workers the dangers of asbestos exposure. Unarco, which also was alleged to be part of the conspiracy, filed for bankruptcy in 1982, Corwin said.

Other defendants in the latest lawsuit — Pneumo Abex Corp., Owens-Illinois Inc., and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. — had settled out of court, and Monday evening’s jury verdict was solely against Honeywell, Corwin said.

“They (Honeywell) told the jury that they didn’t know about the harmful effects of exposure to asbestos until 1972, and that they told workers after that,” Corwin said. “And of course we said they knew before ’72. The only reason they told people after ’72 was because OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) came out and they had to tell people.”

Corwin said she thinks the Blessing family is very happy the jury validated their claim.

A message left with Honeywell officials was not returned Tuesday. But company officials said in a prepared statement following the verdict in the Hoogerwerf case that there is no evidence Bendix or any of its affiliates ever conspired with anyone concerning asbestos, asbestos-related health problems or risks of asbestos exposure.

“We will continue to vigorously defend our position, through appeal if necessary,” the statement said in the Hoogerwerf case. “We are confident that we will ultimately prevail, as have other defendants in similar cases.”

Partners James Wylder and Jim Walker, of Walker & Wylder law firm, have been filing asbestos claims on behalf of former Unarco plant workers since 1975. Walker was the lead counsel for Blessing in the latest case.

Corwin said a particularly damning piece of evidence seen by the Blessing jury was a communication between employees of Bendix and another asbestos company, Johns-Manville Corp.

“The Bendix employee told the Manville employee he was sending him an article about the harmful effects of exposure to asbestos,” Corwin said. “And he (the Bendix employee) said, ‘My answer to the problem is this: If you have enjoyed a good life working with asbestos, why not die from it?’”

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