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An Illinois jury has become the first in the nation to hold manufacturers of arc welding rods liable for a fume-induced Parkinson’s-like disease. The trial, which produced a $1 million verdict, was the first win for plaintiffs in nine tries. Thousands of similar claims were consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland under a multidistrict litigation order. Ohio is the principal place of business of Lincoln Electric Holdings Inc., one of the largest manufactures of welding rods. The cases, with additional filings, now total about 3,300 plaintiffs. In re Welding Rod Products Liability Litigation. In the Illinois case, recently heard in state court, Jack Elam, 65, was awarded $1 million in compensatory damages. The Elam case was tried once before a 12-person jury that hung. Unanimity is required in civil cases in Illinois. The jury found that either the company had created a dangerous product and failed to warn about its dangers, or failed to provide proper safety directions. Elam was exposed to toxic manganese fumes that caused severe neurological damage, akin to, if not, Parkinson’s Disease, said Bob McCoy of Chicago’s Vaughan Cascino Law Offices, one of firms that represented Elam in Elam v. A.O. Smith. “There are 700,000 to 800,000 welders and another 1.2 million people who work around them,” said Allen Vaughan, also of Vaughan Cascino. “These workers need to wear respirators; they need proper ventilation — most of them work in small shops not covered by OSHA,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA safety standards apply to all employers. Those with 10 or fewer employees are exempt from most OSHA record-keeping requirements and their premises aren’t routinely inspected. They sued only the manufacturers and not the employers, Vaughan said, because small employers don’t understand the risk. A plaintiff would have to show an employer’s gross negligence to seek damages from it outside of the state’s workers’ compensation fund. Two experts testified in Elam. One of them, Paul Nausieda, a neurologist who directs an institute in Milwaukee for the National Parkinson’s Foundation, is conducting a study of 20,000 welders in four Southern states funded by a consortium of plaintiffs’ attorneys. Nausieda claims to have found that 1,180 of his subjects had neurological disorders that had never been treated — 242 of them Parkinson’s and 589 of “manganism,” or manganese poisoning. “Some of these people were just in their 20s and had only been welding for two years,” he said. “Welders who have welded long enough talk about getting the shakes.” Nausieda did not diagnose or treat Elam. Pat Gloor of Chicago’s Cassiday, Schade & Gloor defended the manufacturers in Elam. He declined to comment, except to say that he would soon be filing post-trial motions to set aside the verdict. The defense expert, Warren Olanow, chairman of the neurology department at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, also declined to comment. But Ralph Davies of Davies McFarland & Carroll in Pittsburgh was eager to speak on behalf of the defense group. His firm has represented manufacturers of welding consumables for 20 years. “It is important to understand what is being claimed by the plaintiffs,” Davies said. “There is no question that there is a recognized medical condition known as manganese-induced Parkinsonism, but it is an extremely rare condition found primarily among those who mine, process and smelt the ore. “As a practical common sense approach, there were more welders welding in the U.S. in the war effort [World War II] in the worst conditions in history — in the unventilated holds of ships — and there was no outbreak of Parkinson’s or manganism,” Davies asserted. STRONG LINK FOUND A recent small Missouri study of Parkinson’s patients, known as the Racette study, found a strong link between Parkinson’s disease and welding. It concluded that welding “acts as an accelerant to PD.” The investigators found that among the group, composed mostly of people who had family histories of the disease, the age of onset for welders was 15 years earlier than the 63-year-old average for people in other occupations. Some experts have estimated that 5 percent of welders suffer from fume-induced neurological damage. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is in the middle of a research project that it hopes will answer the question of whether welders are exposed to fumes at levels and in ways that would likely cause Parkinson’s-like effects, said Fred Blosser, a spokesman. The study is also looking at possible toxic effects on welders’ respiratory and immune systems and skin. “We don’t know whether actual conditions in welding shops pose the risk for the Parkinson’s-like symptoms,” Blosser said. “It’s a big issue and that’s why we’re applying our research … “ And as the studies grind on, attorneys are learning how to litigate welding cases. Attorneys for Vaughan Cascino, who have been preparing these cases for a decade, lost several of them. “We overshot in the earlier cases with punitive damages,” Vaughan said. None was claimed in Elam’s case. Elam rarely welded, but worked around the fumes. “Mr. Elam acknowledged that he saw the warning labels, but never read them,” Davies said. Davies didn’t participate in the trial but has read the transcripts. Dr. Brad Racette, who conducted the Racette study, was Elam’s other expert. Davies said that when Racette was deposed he “acknowledged that his was merely an unproven hypothesis.” At a September management conference in the Cleveland federal court, McCoy counted 82 attorneys from around the country representing litigants or future litigants. Plaintiff’s lead co-counsel — Don Barrett of the Barrett Law Office in Lexington, Miss., and Richard Scruggs of the Scruggs Law Firm in Oxford, Miss., — recently asked the court to remand a number of cases back to the state courts in which they were originally filed. These are cases that had been removed to their local federal courts on defendants’ motions and were then consolidated in her court. She has not yet ruled.

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