But juror later says panel thought it
was giving partial victory to four Flats plaintiffs
Four Rocky Flats
workers with a wasting lung ailment lost a landmark case
against beryllium producer Brush Wellman Inc. on Tuesday
-- even though a juror said she thought they'd awarded
the workers a partial victory.
The Jefferson County District Court jury found the
Cleveland company not liable for the workers' chronic
beryllium disease, despite piles of documents that their
lawyers said proved a conspiracy with the federal
government to hide the danger of beryllium because the
government needed it to make nuclear weapons.
But a juror said afterward that jurors thought they
had placed 10 percent of the responsibility on Brush
Wellman. Juror Melanie Voiles said she was
surprised that there was no second phase of the trial to
"I expected a damage phase," Voiles said Tuesday
night. She said that after the jurors were instead
dismissed, they asked court staff members, "Did we do
Juror Kim Hornecker said he really didn't know
whether damages would be awarded.
At the same time, the four aging workers and their
wives were moving slowly and silently down the
courthouse corridor, some in tears.
Meanwhile, Brush Wellman's lawyers beamed and
congratulated one another. "We're very grateful to the
jury for its obvious attention to the facts," attorney
Jeffrey Ubersax said.
The jury laid most of the blame on the companies that
ran Rocky Flats. Testimony showed they exposed workers
to beryllium dust over decades with sloppy housekeeping,
poor ventilation and lack of training.
Voiles said the jury wanted to place the lion's share
of blame on the Department of Energy, but it was
not a defendant.
"I felt the government was more liable than anybody
else," Voiles said. "Without a doubt, I think we all
did. It was hard to pin the blame on a corporation when
it was the government at fault."
Testimony in the trial showed that breathing an
infinitesimal amount of beryllium can cause chronic
beryllium disease in from 1 percent to 5 percent of
Plaintiffs said that beryllium could be handled
safely only in glove boxes, and that the Cleveland
company conspired to hide that information. Brush
Wellman said it warned customers of the dangers, and
Rocky Flats failed to protect its employees.
The verdict was confusing, because the jury found the
company innocent of failure to warn of the danger of its
product, and innocent of conspiracy. But while finding
the company innocent of those things and therefore not
liable, the jury found Brush Wellman 9 percent
responsible for the workers' disability, and its defunct
competitor, Berylco, responsible for 1 percent.
Jurors thought that meant Brush Wellman would pay 10
percent of whatever damages were set in the second
phase, Voiles said.
Instead, because the jury found no liability, Judge
Frank Plaut ended the trial.
During the 17-day trial, attorneys presented a
15-foot stack of documents to the jury.
The jury verdict laid 70 percent to 80 percent of the
blame, varying with the individual workers, on the
companies that operated Rocky Flats and allowed them to
breathe dangerous beryllium dust. But Rockwell
International and Dow Chemical can't be sued because the
law says they have already fulfilled their
responsibility by paying workers' compensation.
The jury put 10 percent to 20 percent of the blame on
Voiles said she felt Brush Wellman had been involved
in "half-truths" and she would have found that it
conspired with the Energy Department if that had been an
Stewart said the plaintiffs did not name the Energy
Department in this case because of a strategic decision
to pursue the federal claim separately. Workers are also
eligible for $150,000 one-time payments to nuclear
weapons workers injured on the job.
Contact Ann Imse at (303) 892-5438 or