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Setting the stage for hundreds of cases nationwide, an Alameda County, Calif. jury July 13 found Baxter Health Care Corp. liable for manufacturing defective latex gloves and ordered the company to hand over nearly $800,000 to a health care worker. The jury in McGinnis v. Baxter Health Care actually came back with nearly $1.13 million in compensatory damages. But the group found Baxter 70 percent negligent, leaving the company on the hook to pay closer to $800,000 to a former respiratory therapist who suffered debilitating allergic reactions after years of wearing the gloves at work. The plaintiff, Christine McGinnis, and her employer, St. Joseph’s Hospital of Stockton, Calif., were found 30 percent negligent but will not be required to pay the difference. Plaintiffs’ attorneys celebrated the jury’s finding of strict product liability as a solid victory. The McGinnis case was the first of 40 latex glove cases in the state and hundreds more pending in federal district courts to make it through trial — and the verdict could prove a beacon for ongoing latex litigation. “The verdict shows that a jury looked at the evidence — evidence which will be used in the other cases — and found product liability,” said Peter Crossin, an attorney with Rose, Klein & Marias in Los Angeles, who is handling more than a dozen latex glove cases and watched the McGinnis case closely. McGinnis was represented by attorneys Aaron Simon and Philip Harley with Oakland’s Kazan, McClain, Edises, Simon & Abrams, whose firm has acted as liaison counsel between plaintiffs’ attorneys and the courts in the California latex glove cases. “We’re pleased with the verdict. It was the first, and the first cases are always difficult,” said Harley. “And we’re confident we’ll get better and better verdicts as time goes on.” Attorneys representing Baxter — including Robert Mitchell of San Francisco’s Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson, and Thomas Freeman of Oakland’s Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May — did not return telephone calls. Nor did representatives of Allegiance Corp., the company that spun off of Baxter in 1996 that assumed Baxter’s latex glove interests. Latex gloves are manufactured from natural rubber and include allergenic proteins. Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the hundreds of latex glove cases maintain that the proteins are linked to increased sensitivity to latex and rubber, sometimes causing virulent allergic reactions. Now glove manufacturers must defend against claims that they knew about the problem and failed to incorporate a simple cleansing process for the gloves that would have removed the allergenic proteins. Baxter Health Care, which manufactured and distributed the lion’s share of latex gloves throughout the 1980s and early-1990s, has been named the defendant in most of the cases. The defense has maintained that glove use skyrocketed at the height of the AIDS crisis and that the Food and Drug Administration did not require the manufacturers to include warnings. But plaintiffs’ attorneys note that while other manufacturers began washing their gloves in water to remove the proteins as early as 1991, Baxter did not until 1996. “World War II was started by Hitler in 1939 and completed by the U.S. in Japan in 1945 — and that took less time than it took for Baxter to figure out how to wash gloves,” Harley said, adding that more than 95 percent of proteins can be removed by flushing latex gloves in water for 30 seconds. Some states, including California, have consolidated the mounting number of latex glove cases, allowing attorneys pursuing individual cases to share depositions and other evidence and submit generic motions that can affect all the cases. The cases involve health care workers — doctors, nurses, technicians and therapists — who claim their own health has been compromised by exposure to the gloves and their proteins. The Judicial Council coordination proceeding was granted in February 1997 by San Diego Superior Court Judge William Pate, who presided over the McGinnis case in Fremont, Calif., outside San Francisco. At the federal level, the cases are consolidated under Multi District Litigation, in the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania, Eastern District, under the supervision of Judge Edmund Ludwig. The first federal trial, however, isn’t scheduled until later this year at the earliest. The McGinnis case lasted for five weeks at the Fremont Hall of Justice. The jury deliberated for three days before returning with its verdict. All of the latex gloves cases rely, more or less, on the same technical evidence and depositions. And, Crossin said, so far, so good. He noted that attorneys from all around the state and the country tried to drop into the Fremont courthouse for a glimpse of their own fate before a jury. “Even though we had sharing of information nationwide, new information can still be found and what information we have may be put forth in even stronger ways,” he said. “But so far, it bodes well for the plaintiff’s side.”

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