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Federal Judge Will Allow Plaintiffs’ to Argue Welding Fumes Cause Parkinson’s Disease

Jul 27, 2005 | Federal District Judge Kathleen McDonald (Cleveland) has denied a defense motion that sought to exclude testimony that welding-fume exposure causes Parkinson’s disease.

In permitting the plaintiffs to argue their theory that welding fumes cause this extremely serious neurological disorder, Judge McDonald has opened the door for some 5,000 cases premised on the same theory of liability to now move forward in several state courts as well as in some 4,500 cases which have been aggregated before Judge McDonald under a multidistrict litigation order.

While the ruling does not determine the underlying issue of whether welding fumes do, in fact, cause Parkinson’s disease, it will permit the issue to be submitted to a jury for resolution based on expert medical and scientific proof.  Clearly, that is all the plaintiffs really wanted to accomplish in defeating the defense motion. Now, it is anyone’s guess how a jury will decide once it hears all of the evidence on this particular theory.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys as well as a significant number of highly qualified medical experts believe that the welding process which releases significant amounts of manganese fumes, a metal known to cause neurological problems, does indeed cause Parkinson’s disease.

While there are up to 500,000 welders in the United States alone, exposure to welding fumes poses a risk to millions of workers who regularly work in close proximity to welding operations in a number of major industries including ship and bridge building; heavy construction work on other steel structures like high-rise buildings, automotive fabrication and repair, plastics, and electronics.

The lawsuits are directed at a number of current and former manufacturers of welding materials, companies that distributed welding equipment, and major users of welding services.

Although welding materials come with printed warning and welding operations are required to be done in ventilated areas and only with the use of appropriate breathing equipment, the lawsuits claim that the various defendants were well aware of the significant dangers posed by the practice and did not do enough to warn those exposed to those risks.

So far, plaintiffs have won 9 of 10 cases in which evidence of the connection between welding and Parkinson’s was permitted. The motion to prevent this theory from continuing to be advanced was defendants’ last and only hope of turning the tide in the litigation. Since, under federal rules, the order denying that motion cannot be appealed until the end of the case, the trials will have to proceed with that theory intact.

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