EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - Monday's defense witness was the first medical doctor to testify in a Madison County, Ill., asbestos trial that is now into its second week before a jury.
The lawsuit was brought to Madison County, the nation's epicenter of asbestos litigation, by brothers Tom King, Jr. and Brian King last year on behalf of their father Tom King, Sr., months before he died from mesothelioma on May 23.
Dr. Samuel Forman, a ship doctor, testified on behalf of defendant Crane Co., a company that supplied the U.S. Navy with mechanical gaskets and valves. As part of his duties, Forman was the primary practitioner on board the ships and bases he served throughout his career.
He was eventually asked to return to Harvard University's medical school to specialize in occupational and industrial health.
Forman managed the Navy's asbestos medical surveillance program at Long Beach Naval Shipyard. He was responsible for screening programs for sailors actively working with asbestos-containing products.
"Our purpose was to identify asbestos-related diseases as early as possible," Forman said.
Forman engaged in a thorough history research project for the Navy to develop a report on when the Navy knew of the hazards surrounding asbestos-containing product use and what protection methods in the past were successful.
He looked at documents from the 1920s to present day, which was mid-1980s at the time.
He testified that the U.S. Naval Medical Bulletin from 1922 jumpstarted organizational expectation and asbestosis was named in the late 1920s, which means the Navy was aware that asbestos dust could lead to scarring of the lungs before asbestosis even had a name.
While the Navy was aware of the health hazards associated with asbestos use, not everyone knew of the dangers, Forman said.
Because King's primary tasks consisted of changing gaskets, repairing pumps and repairing valves, Forman shared his expertise in health hazards of those products during his testimony.
Forman said the Navy was not concerned with gaskets and packing being dangerous until long after King was discharged, as supported by his extensive research.
"Gaskets and packing containing asbestos were not even considered to possibly be hazardous until, I would say, after Mr. King's service," Forman said.
During cross examination by plaintiff attorney Frank Wathen, Forman said the Navy didn't become concerned with asbestos released from gasket and packing work until the 1990s, which was more than 20 years following King's service.
Our concerns "did not, for all practical purposes, consider gaskets and packing maintenance work to be hazardous," he said.
However, Forman agreed with Wathen's statement that while the Navy didn't recognize chrysotile asbestos from gaskets and packing to be hazardous, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had already considered all forms of asbestos and all levels of exposure to be dangerous.
Answering a juror question at the end of his testimony, Forman said the Navy did not take precautions in regards to asbestos dust from gasket and packing removal.
Forman also agreed that the Navy did not do everything possible to warn sailors of asbestos dangers.
"In light of current knowledge, the Navy did not identify Mr. King's service as potentially hazardous to him and provide, in hindsight, adequate controls," Forman said.
However, he said the Navy would tend to keep dust generated from gasket and packing work minimized as general housekeeping and precaution.
"It was prudent to take those measures when dealing with a potential carcinogen," he said.
Wathen shared a number of documents tracing the knowledge of asbestos, and Forman agreed that manufacturers would have had access to those documents. Wathen shared a previous testimony from another case where Forman said at the very least a company has the duty to research how toxic their products are.
At this point, Lowery objected to the line of questioning and requested to approach the bench on the grounds of speculation.
Wathen then switched gears to address the difference between safety and health, asking if long-term hazards, or health hazards, were considered secondary to immediate hazards, of safety hazards. Forman disagreed saying the two are just handled differently.
Forman explained that catastrophic threats to life are handled with immediacy in order to save lives and keep the ship functional in cases of emergency.
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