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February 07, 2003

 



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Courts | Article published Friday, February 7, 2003
Former beryllium worker’s suit ended
Ex-Brush employee accepts settlement

By
BLADE STAFF WRITER


ELMORE, Ohio - The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a case filed by a former Brush Wellman employee and an outspoken critic who accused the company of knowingly giving him an incurable disease.

Gary Renwand, Jr., asked that his case be dismissed because he accepted a settlement from the company.

Mr. Renwand has beryllium disease, an incurable, sometimes fatal lung disease caused by inhaling beryllium dust. He worked for Brush Wellman more than 20 years. Beryllium is a lightweight metal that is used in the automotive, electronics, and defense industries.

Mr. Renwand said he was forced to dismiss the suit because workers cannot receive a compensation package offered by the federal government if they sue the company.

"You can’t fight the federal government. And fighting Brush Wellman is like fighting the federal government. The way things are going, it was clear we weren’t going to win," said Mr. Renwand, whose father also has beryllium disease. "I wasn’t in it just for the money. Brush is in the wrong."

But a Brush Wellman spokesman said the settlement with Mr. Renwand and those with other plaintiffs "has been a significant and satisfying accomplishment for us as it exonerates the company from the reckless and sensationalized charges that had been made by plaintiffs and their trial attorneys."

Details of the settlement are confidential, but two plaintiffs in Brush cases said the company offered about $3,500 after initially offering $1,000.

Brush spokesman Patrick Carpenter said he could not discuss settlement details, but said it was "modest." The money is either covered by insurance or already figured into the company’s finances, so it will not have a major impact on Brush’s financial results.

Mr. Renwand sued Brush in November 1999, a month after he was diagnosed with beryllium disease. His father was diagnosed in 1993.

In his suit, Mr. Renwand maintained the company not only knew about the risks, but ignored them while putting production ahead of safety.

The courts haven’t seen it that way.

The 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland agreed with Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Harry Hanna that Brush should not be made to pay for Mr. Renwand’s illness. The panel ruled that Brush told workers about beryllium disease, tried to protect them, and kept them informed about the disease and how many people had it.

Mr. Renwand appealed his case to the Ohio Supreme Court, but was unsure if the court would even agree to hear it. In addition, a federal compensation program that provided $150,000 plus medical expenses for workers would not be available unless Mr. Renwand dismissed his suit.

An attorney who represents several beryllium victims said the ruling in Mr. Renwand’s case was discouraging and set a precedent for all of the cases. A settlement conference was held last month, and several plaintiffs agreed to take money and drop their cases.

The lawsuits are part of a string of cases against Brush Wellman that the company has either ended in settlements or has won in decisions across the country. A Brush spokesman said the company is setting a precedent for other workers who might consider suing.

Brush expects that by the end of the first quarter, there will be around 20 cases pending against the company, and only two involving employees.

That’s a significant drop from the end of 2001, when there were 74 lawsuits involving 187 plaintiffs.

Mr. Renwand said he believes workers should be able to take the federal compensation and sue the company.

"I hope somebody takes up this fight, but it doesn’t look like they would be successful," he said.




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