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Beryllium makers not liable for ill effects

Oak Ridge workers' lawsuits dismissed

By Laura Ayo, News-Sentinel staff writer

A federal judge's dismissal of a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of beryllium used at nuclear weapons plants in Oak Ridge could mean the dismissal of similar lawsuits pending before the same judge, lawyers in the case said.

"If the other plaintiffs asserted similar claims in connection with the same sites, I would think if it's in the same court and (before) the same judge, I don't see how those claims would not be disposed of the same way," said John Traficonte, litigation counsel for Cabot Corp. of Pennsylvania. "Logically, they would have to be."

U.S. District Judge James Jarvis' order on Tuesday granting summary judgment to Cabot, Brush Wellman Inc. of Ohio, NGK Metal Corp. of Pennsylvania and Ceradyne Inc. of California dismisses one of 10 lawsuits pending before him.

In the lawsuit brought in 1994 by Y-12 workers Troy Murphy Morgan, Corky Dean McCarter, Richard Emory Myers Sr. and Kathleen Beatty and in the other nine lawsuits, Y-12 or K-25 workers claim they contracted a debilitating respiratory illness called chronic beryllium disease or tested positive for beryllium sensitivity from being exposed to airborne beryllium dust and fumes while working at the plants.

"In the remaining cases, there are motions filed similar to the ones filed in Morgan and the court's ruling should apply to those as well," said Jim Wright, who represents Ceradyne.

But Wright and other lawyers in the case said they'd only be guessing if they tried to conclude what effect the ruling would have on the pending cases. Court records show, however, that a motion for voluntary dismissal of all claims against all defendants in one of the other lawsuits was filed about two weeks after Jarvis indicated he was granting summary judgment in the Morgan case.

While Jarvis noted his decision in an Aug. 1 order, the order didn't become final until Tuesday when he issued a detailed 42-page opinion. Steve Jensen, one of the lawyers for the workers in the Morgan case and other cases, said he couldn't comment about pending litigation because an appeal is possible.

Most of the 10 lawsuits complained that the manufacturers and distributors, as well as other similar companies and the federal government, deliberately concealed for decades the true health risks to those who worked with the substance.

"Because the government and its contractors were the only parties in a position to warn the plaintiffs and protect them from the dangers of beryllium, the defendants had no duty to warn the plaintiffs," Jarvis ruled. "The duty was assumed by the United States and its contractors."

The judge noted Congress recently enacted a compensation plan entitling plaintiffs and other injured beryllium workers to receive a $150,000 lump-sum payment and medical benefits.

Jarvis - like a Jefferson County, Colo., jury during a trial in a similar case in June - also rejected the workers' argument that the companies participated in a 50-year conspiracy to keep the actual dangers of beryllium exposure secret. Patrick Carpenter, a spokesman for Brush Wellman, said he received word late Wednesday that the plaintiffs' motion for new trial in the Colorado case had been denied.

The judge also rejected the workers' arguments on two other issues.

"We are extremely pleased that the District Court granted this motion," Brush Wellman wrote in a statement. "The Court can be commended for being thorough and reasoned in evaluating our position that Brush Wellman was not responsible for the health and safety of another company's employees."

Laura Ayo may be reached at 865-342-6341 or ayo@knews.com.

Get Copyright Clearance Copyright 2001 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
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September 7, 2001

 
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