EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - The second day of a Madison County, Ill., asbestos trial was devoted to establishing the late plaintiff's medical history and informing the jury about asbestos and its consequences.
Brothers Tom King, Jr. and Brian King brought the suit to Madison County last year on behalf of their father Tom King, Sr., months before he died from mesothelioma on May 23 at age 71.
Crane Co., a company that supplied the U.S. Navy with mechanical gaskets and valves, and John Crane, a designer and manufacturer of mechanical seals, are the remaining defendants at trial from the original of list of 119 defendant companies.
According to the lawsuit, Tom King was a machinist mate for the U.S. Navy from 1959-1962 and again from 1965-1969, serving on the USS Forrestal, USS Tallahatchie County and USS Hollister.
King's job was to change gaskets, repair pumps and repair valves. Part of his job required him to scrape out dry, baked chrysotile asbestos from gaskets in order to replace them with new ones. He used a wire brush and a scraper to clean the asbestos from the old gaskets. He also was exposed to asbestos packing, which was used in valves and pumps as a sealant to prevent leaking, according to testimony.
Trial is under way in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs' court - the nation's busiest asbestos docket. The second day of testimony was split between two plaintiffs witnesses, Dr. Arnold Brody and Dr. Carlos Bedrossian.
While King worked specifically with chrysotile asbestos contained in gaskets and packing, defense counsel alleged his exposure to insulation aboard the ships was the cause of his mesothelioma.
However, both experts agreed in their testimonies that all asbestos fiber types can cause mesothelioma.
Bedrossian, an expert pathologist, compared the situation to varying calibers of ammunition. He explained that it doesn't matter if someone is shot with a .38 caliber or a .22 caliber, "a bullet is a bullet." Either way, someone is shot and risks a high probability of dying.
He said the various asbestos exposures only "adds more weight" to King's potential of getting sick.
Brody, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Pathology at the Tulane University's School of Medicine, explained how the human body has natural defense mechanisms to protect the lungs from asbestos damage.
As part of those defenses, asbestos fibers sometimes get caught in the lymph fluid flow within the lungs and can travel to the lining of the lungs, which is where mesothelioma forms.
Due to the nature of travel to the lining, Brody said chrysotile asbestos is more easily removed to the lining of the lungs because it breaks down.
"Fibers that are smaller are more likely to be transported in the fluid flow," Brody said.
Once the asbestos fibers make their way to the lining of the lungs, a latency period sets in as the damaged cells do their dirty work, he said. Mesothelioma typically takes decades to develop into a cancer, because a damaged cell has to come into contact with asbestos fibers five to 15 times before it loses control of cell growth and develops into a cancer, he said.
During cross examination by Crane Co. attorney Rebecca Nickelson, Brody said he recognizes that some scientists deny that chrysotile asbestos will cause mesothelioma, but says there is still debate in the scientific community.
"They're respected scientists," Brody said, "that doesn't mean they are right about that."
Bedrossian, cross examined by Crane Co. attorney Jim Lowery, said some experts are "under the false impression that chrysotile is harmless. There is no harmless poison."
However, Nickelson said amosite asbestos is the most predominant fiber recovered from the lungs of those who were exposed to a variety of asbestos types.
In an effort to pin the mesothelioma development on more potent asbestos fibers, the defense counsel pointed out King's exposure to insulation asbestos fibers.
However, Brody said it is impossible to narrow down which fiber caused mesothelioma, comparing it to an attempt to determine which cigarette individually caused lung cancer. They all contributed equally despite the variety, he said.
"So if he was exposed to both, how are you possibly going to separate that?" Brody asked during cross examination. He continued by saying that all exposures caused errors in the lung cells that resulted in illness.
Bedrossian agreed that it is not scientifically possible to know which product contributed, joking that the fibers don't tell doctors which product they each belonged to
He added that even a single fiber could come in like a "suicide bomber," causing all of the damage to establish mesothelioma.
Bedrossian had the opportunity to look at King's medical records and reports, which revealed that King had bi-lateral pleural plaque - a significant sign that he was exposed to asbestos.
King's mesothelioma had metastasized to other organs, including his bones and liver, at the time of his death.
During cross examination, defense attorney Jim Lowery raised the question of whether or not King's metastases could be attributed to his prostate cancer.
Lowery said King repetitively refused traditional treatment for his prostate cancer, including hormone therapy and chemotherapy, despite his doctors' urging.
Instead, King chose to fight his illness with alternative medicine and manage it on his own. He was even told specifically that he was increasing his risk of his illness spreading and that his cancer would not be treated with alternative medicine, according to his medical records.
Bedrossian said that while many doctors do not support alternative medicine, it was King's right to choose which type of therapy to do, especially because traditional medication is like pumping more poison into the body and could be just as risky as doing nothing at all.
Lowery explained that prostate cancer has a tendency to metastasize in the bones, which could shorten a patient's life expectancy to just one to three years.
Bedrossian could not verify the specific shortened life expectancy, but agreed one-to-three years was fair. However, he concluded by saying that while prostate cancer can be serious, it doesn't hold a candle to the threats posed when more dangerous severe illnesses are present.
Regardless of the damage King's prostate cancer had on his body, Bedrossian said cancer diagnosis in the bone specifically named mesothelioma as the culprit, and the radiologist was confident that the new sites containing cancerous cells were the result of mesothelioma.
During Bedrossian's cross examination, Lowery used several hypothetical situations, including scenarios where gaskets were the sole asbestos exposure and where insulation was the sole exposure. The plaintiff's counsel objected each time, creating tension in the courtroom.
Lowery moved on to questions relating to past testimonies, which Wathen objected on the grounds that the defense was trying to make him appear inconsistent. Stobbs agreed.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Heather Isringhausen Gvillo at firstname.lastname@example.org