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New trial sought in beryllium case

Attorney for Flats workers cites jurors' confusion as reason; motion to come soon

By Berny Morson, News Staff Writer

GOLDEN -- Lawyers for Rocky Flats workers sickened by beryllium dust will argue jury confusion entitles their clients to a new trial.

Steve Jensen, a lawyer for the workers, said Wednesday that some of the jurors didn't understand their verdict meant his clients couldn't collect any money from Brush Wellman, the company that manufactures beryllium.

A jury Tuesday ruled against four of the workers and their families. The workers had claimed the Ohio-based company is liable for their terminal lung disease.

But following the verdict, one juror said she was under the impression the six-member panel had agreed Brush Wellman was 10 percent responsible for the workers' problem.

"There's going to be a dispute about whether the jury's verdict is in conflict with itself," Jensen said.

Jensen will ask District Court Judge Frank Plaut to schedule a new trial. Jensen said he will file the motion "in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner."

Ronald Roerish of Boulder, one of the workers who sued, said the jurors seemed confused by the case.

"I don't blame the jurors -- they didn't understand the legal mumbo jumbo," said Roerish, adding he didn't understand much of it himself.

James Tooley of Berthoud, who also developed beryllium disease at Rocky Flats, agreed.

"Maybe they didn't understand a lot of it," Tooley said. "I know it was very complicated. . . . Maybe they never worked in a place like that."

Jensen said he will decide whether to appeal once Plaut rules on the motion for a new trial.

Brush Wellman lawyer Roy Atwood said the company will appeal if the workers appeal. Although Brush Wellman won, the company could still challenge rulings on technical points that might affect other beryllium cases.

That's more than a theoretical issue for Brush Wellman since cases involving another 47 people suing the company are pending before Plaut.

The additional cases will be heard in three trials beginning in April 2002, Plaut said.

Brush Wellman faces another 75 lawsuits involving 200 plaintiffs nationwide.

Shortly after the verdict Tuesday, Brush Wellman issued a statement saying, "This verdict, once and for all, exonerates" the company.

But Stewart said his next step is to "pick another jury," for the next trial starting Aug. 6 in Knoxville, Tenn., involving workers from the Oak Ridge nuclear-weapons plant.

"Our intent is to try them until we win," he said.

June 28, 2001

 
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