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R.T. Vanderbilt Appeals $5.6 Million Verdict in Talc Asbestos Case

February 4, 2008 – Media Coverage
HarrisMartin

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A pre-hearing conference recently took place to address R.T. Vanderbilt's appeal of a $5.6 million verdict involving their talc products, which the defendant claims do not contain asbestos. Franklin v. R.T. Vanderbilt, et al., No. 2007-CA-002103 (Ky. Ct. App.); No. 04-CI-00274 (Ky. Cir. Ct., Anderson Cty.).

The pre-hearing conference took place on Jan. 29 in the Kentucky Court of Appeals, according to the court's clerk's office. Sources told HarrisMartin that the parties discussed the possibility of settling, but no agreement was reached.

A briefing schedule has not yet been entered in the proceedings.

R.T. Vanderbilt filed a notice appealing the $5.6 million award, which was later reduced to $4.09 million, on Oct. 19.

On Sept. 10, the Kentucky Circuit Court for Anderson County jury rejected R.T. Vanderbilt's argument that its talc products did not contain asbestos, instead concluding that the products contained enough asbestos to cause the development of mesothelioma in a former tile worker.

The jury did, however, absolve Ford Motor Co. of any liability, entering a verdict in favor of the defendant on the same claims.

Decedent Flora Franklin worked as a tile sorter and lead lady at Florida Tile, according to the administrator of her estate, Johnny Franklin.

According to the plaintiff, R.T. Vanderbilt was in the business of mining milled talc and supplied the product to Florida Tile during the years Franklin was employed. An Occupational Safety Hazard Administration inspector testified during trial that use of the talc produced dust that contained tremolite asbestos.

As a result of this dust exposure, Flora Franklin developed malignant mesothelioma, the plaintiff claimed. The Franklins also lived adjacent to the plant, further exposing the decedent to the asbestos-filled dust, Johnny Franklin alleged.

Franklin contended that R.T. Vanderbilt marketed its products as ones that did not contain asbestos, when in fact, they did. According to the plaintiff, R.T. Vanderbilt failed to investigate its products until Flora Franklin had been exposed to that for several years.

R.T. Vanderbilt argued during trial that its products did not contain asbestos and that Flora Franklin was not exposed to the talc products. The defendant further claimed that the decedent's cause of death was a heart attack, not malignant mesothelioma.

Sources told HarrisMartin that leading up to the trial, R.T. Vanderbilt was sanctioned on numerous occasions for its failure to comply with discovery requests.

The jury awarded $5 million in pain and suffering, $200,000 for past medical expenses and $450,000 in punitive damages. After weighing the jury's allocation of fault, the award was reduced by 30 percent, or a total of $4.09 million.

In November 2006 a New Jersey jury also rejected R.T. Vanderbilt's contention that their talc did not contain asbestos, awarding $3 million to a former potter who used the defendant's talc in the creation of ceramic materials. See related story in the December 2006 issue of COLUMNS-Asbestos.

Testifying for the plaintiff were Dr. Jerrold Abraham, pathology; Dr. Samuel Hammar, pathology; Dr. Arthur Frank, occupational medicine; Dr. Ronald Dodson, electron neutrocytosis; Richard Hatfield, material science; and Dr. Dermot Halpin, general surgeon.

Testifying on behalf of R.T. Vanderbilt were Dr. Emanuel Rubin, pathology; and Dr. C.S. Thompson, mineralogist.

Counsel for the defendant during trial was Hawkins Parnell & Young in the firm's Atlanta and Dallas offices, respectively. The defendant is being represented on appeal by Stephen G. Amato of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirland in Lexington, Ky. and Matthew W. Breetz, Bethany A. Breetz and Michael D. Risley of Stites & Harbison of Louisville, Ky.

The plaintiff is represented by Joseph D. Satterley and Kenneth L. Sales of Sales, Tillman, Wallbaum, Catlett & Satterley in Louisville, Ky.

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