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Asbestos Lawsuit Goes to Trial

Products caused cancer, suit claims

Apr 14, 2004 | Indiana Gazette

A product-liability lawsuit filed by a dying retiree of the Fisher Scientific Co. almost four years ago has made its way to trial this week in the Indiana County Court.

The suit filed by Joseph Carl Smith of Homer City RD 3 has been consolidated with claims that two other retired Fisher Scientific workers, Stanley Maschak of Shelocta RD 3 and John Lee Harris of Indiana, who also contracted cancer from exposure to asbestos in Fisher Scientific's plant along Indian Springs Road in White Township.

Smith and his wife, Concetta, filed suit in July 2000, about three months after Smith had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs. Smith, 69, died in February 2001.

Joan Maschak filed a series of three lawsuits in 2000 and 2001, following her husband's death at age 69 from mesothelioma in November 1999.

Harris, 68, initiated his case in November 2000, less than three months after surgeons removed most of his right lung to prevent the spread of lung cancer. An attorney said Tuesday that Harris is in remission.

About 60 companies were named as defendants in each of the suits, but lawyers representing only two of them are putting up a defense against the claims in the trial this week.

The suits accused the companies of manufacturing or supplying asbestos-containing products that Smith, Maschak and Harris used in the assembly of medical and laboratory equipment in the Fisher plant. Fisher Scientific was not named as a defendant because Pennsylvania law prohibits workers from suing their employers.

On Monday, at least eight attorneys were at the defense table in Judge Gregory Olson's courtroom, helping to select the jury. When the trial opened Tuesday morning, only three lawyers remained to defend Pittsburgh-area industrial suppliers, Taylored Industries Inc. of Harmarville and Pittsburgh Gage and Supply Co., which now is owned by IU North America Inc.

Many of the claims against the other defendant companies had been dismissed "with prejudice" or "without prejudice" and, in some cases, the court had granted motions for summary judgment against them, according to court records. But attorneys on both sides declined to discuss whether the other companies had reached settlements with the plaintiffs.

In his opening statement Tuesday, an attorney representing Harris and Concetta Smith, told the jury that although Taylored Industries and Pittsburgh Gage simply furnished asbestos-containing products that were made by other companies, they were just as responsible as the manufacturers to provide sufficient warning of the dangers of asbestos to the Fisher Scientific Co. workers who used the products.

The attorney who represents Joan Maschak, said the men assembled ovens, furnaces, fume hoods and hot plates using insulating panels shipped to Fisher by Taylored Industries and were sickened by breathing microscopic fibers of asbestos from the panels. Beachler also said the men worked in the vicinity of pipes covered with asbestos-containing insulation furnished by Pittsburgh Gage.

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